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    Japan to contribute bells and whistles to early warning system

    All this talk about warning systems for the Indian Ocean is no longer theoretical, apparently:

    A government-envisioned system to help Asian nations facing the Indian Ocean construct a tsunami early warning system will utilize around-the-clock satellite monitoring of water pressure in the sea, government sources said Wednesday.

    Any abnormal changes in water pressure would be relayed to an alert center to be set up in the region. On receipt of an alert, the center would inform regional governments of the threat, enabling them to issue evacuation orders.

    …to those well-to-do people in a position to hear them. Don’t misunderstand–I have nothing against affluence or the affluent. It must also be said that the planners seem to understand that the method of transmission is going to have to be basic and low-tech:

    The evacuation advisory would be passed on at the local level by radio-linked loudspeaker systems similar to those used in Japan by local governments for public announcements.

    Now everyone around the Indian Ocean gets to be constantly harangued by Japanese-style public service loudspeakers. This is called “development.” (I’m assuming the local authorities won’t take long to catch on to possibilities beyond the once-every-500-years imminence of a tidal wave. In Japan, at least, there isn’t any greeting or caution too trivial to be blasted at you from municipal loudspeakers.)

    Mrs. du Toit’s new essay (it’s bizarre that I almost never link to posts by the people I read most assiduously) covers an important element of this kind of thinking and why it’s a problem. Nature does what it likes, and we can’t get the pretty, rousing, life-affirming parts without also taking the cataclysms. People who haven’t internalized that are thinking about the tsunami in ways that run together a lot of things that aren’t comparable.

    Or, if I’m going to be blunt, a lot of people who aren’t comparable. Before a new reader ruptures an artery, let me hasten to say that I do believe we’re all comparable in intrinsic human worth and that, in societies in which we have choices, it’s our choices that distinguish us. I suspect, though, that when people envision a shiny new early warning system, they have visions of people living subsistence-level lives in remote fishing hamlets being saved from the next tsunami, and that’s just not going to happen. Indonesia is one of the five most-populous countries in the world; it and the other countries of the Indian Ocean have thousands upon thousands of little islands where people are tucked away. A lot of these places haven’t yet benefited from the extensive progress of receiving reliable plumbing and electricity; how likely is it that they’ll all be kitted out with a relative luxury like a tsunami warning system?

    What will actually happen is that population centers like coastal cities and resorts will get the loudspeakers, which means that we’ll just be making it more likely that their relatively rich inhabitants can escape. Once again, my point is not that it’s bad to help the well-to-do escape disaster; it’s that people seem to be seeking a way to help the truly destitute, and this sort of thing simply is not going to do it. Economic development, in which villages find a way to provide something marketable and use the resulting income to upgrade their standard of living, will do it. But that has to be a thousand local projects, not a single gesture of international mega-magnanimity. In order to think in those terms, you have to have realistic hope for people, not just wishes.

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