Thursday, January 11, 2007



I wrote in Part 1 of this ongoing article about the continuing bad effects of terrorism on Bali. Sadly, since I last wrote many natural and man-made disasters have combined to kill more than a thousand Indonesians in the past two weeks. Luckily Bali was spared in these events. (Although with one live volcano and many geographical similarities to Krakatoa, this situation could all change some day.)

Last week, in one terrible storm a airline plane in Indonesia disappeared from the face of the earth leaving one-hundred people missing—and their families grieving. Meanwhile, a series of monsoon-like storms had also left hundreds of others dead when mudslides hit their villages. Further, over five hundred more died in an overloaded ferry disaster—also due to the storms and bad management of ferries.

All these were avoidable disasters. If local and national governments would ensure that safety comes first in all these communities—communities of aviation, communities of villages, and communities of travelers--, more people would be alive in 2007.


I was extremely fortunate to have been able to travel and stay in Sri Lanka in late January through early February 2006. This is certainly because poor Sri Lankan life has gone into a tailspin with bombings and firefights taking place on a weekly basis in and around many regions of the country in the past 11 months.

I had wanted to visit the country one year earlier, but in the immediate wake of the Great Indian Ocean Tsunami of Christmas 2004, I instead had determined to send donations to the region through organizations, like Mennonite Disaster Relief and HOPE Worldwide.

Significantly, I arrived in the country on the day of the first terrorist bombing in Colombo in many years. This would prove to be the first of many in 2006. Interestingly, at the time, that bombing was associated more with local mafia types than with either Tamil Tiger or pro-Lankan partisans. (The new Sri Lankan government had promised a crack-down on organized crime.)

Personally, my journeys to Kandy and the central parts of the Sri Lankan island were days of extreme calm and safety. I was able to visit the most beautiful botanical garden I had ever seen. I also loved watching the elephants from the elephant orphanage taking their daily baths in the local rivers. I also climbed Lion Rock and traveled to one of the nations capitals before taking the railroad back south to where Tsunami damage had been felt so badly.

Meanwhile, there were rumblings of the impending collapse of the Norwegian brokered peace to the North—especially strong saber rattling from the Tamil side was shown as the government in torn bore its teeth. In short, the Tamil Tigers appeared to desire to rewrite the earlier peace accords that had brought the civil-war-tattered land a reprieve four years earlier. On the other hand, by February 2006, most of the Lankans in the South seemed to already have hardened their position against a North Ireland-type solution to the 25-plus years of Civil War.

Nonetheless, while I was finally visiting the Tsunami damaged southeastern coast of the heavily Buddhist island of Sri Lanka, I still was holding out hope for progress towards greater peace and development for the great majority of otherwise peace-loving folks of that Indian Ocean island.


On my journey around the isle, I discovered the wonderful history of that land’s great dam builders--a history dating back nearly 3 millennia. For example, I learned that one of the islands finest emperors over 2200 years earlier had once proclaimed as his national policy: “Not a drop of water shall reach the sea without it first being used by man.” This approach to monsoon rains and water conservation had created the most advance nation of engineering (outside possibly Egypt and China) that likely existed on earth before the Roman era (or even before the 19th century of industrialized Europe).

Evidence of this greatness was revealed around 1970 when Canadian engineers acknowledged that after years of research, satellites were then confirming that the damn builders of ancient Lanka had known how to select and build earthen damn sites every bit as thoroughly as 20th Century engineers had become able to do. Many large 2000-plus year-old dams near the ancient capital still function--and are gorgeous to look at.

In short, the great tear-dropped island of Sri Lanka has had a positive history of trying to control water.

Alas, the modern island country of Sri Lanka was not prepared—as we all know—for the Wall of Water that hit it on December 26, 2004.


I spent the last week of my time in Sri Lanka staying at a resort located on a short rise west of the Muslim village called Hambotota. Some 13 months after the Tsunami hit, life in Hambotota revealed numerous tents and temporary structures, which had been built through donations from the countries around the world, including donations from Kuwait. On the other hand, even though some people still lived in tents at that late date in the area, many houses had been built, too, by several different NGOs. Unfortunately, these new abodes were along way from the residents’ traditional dwellings and places of employment.

The south of the country of Sri Lanka consists largely of Buddhists, but the great brunt of destruction from the Tsunami in the southeast of the country had occurred in many of the mostly Islamic settlements, like in the town of Hambotota. On a one day-tour east of Hambotota, I visited the remains of the foundation of a large tourist cabin in a National Park famous for lions. Over 60 tourists (& park animals) and local Sri Lankans had been washed away there in and around that cabin on Boxer Day 2004.

The ruins of that tourist cabin was a pretty sobering site to see, especially as this cabin was situated nearly 150 meters from the shoreline. Nevertheless, the rise of the shore from the sea at that location is extremely gradually or non-existent. That one great tidal wave had simply washed unstopped inland a number of kilometers-erasing all animals in its path.

Two days prior to visiting that national park, as I walked along the shore at the foot of my own hotel on that southern coast, I had discovered myself pulled down into the sea by the tentacle of a quick and tremendously strong rip-tide. (I’m a heavy guy and can swim fairly well. I thought, “If a simple rip-tide can drag me towards the sea, what chance did those poor souls on December 26, 2004 have?”)

Between Christmas and New Year, those unfortunate people in that National Park along with over 50,000 other Sri Lankans had lost there lives. Sadly, not only do their families miss them, but far too many of their surviving family members still have no home as 2007 dawns. For example, in Hambotota, a township of over 30,000, I could find no person who had not lost one or more family members on December 26, 2004.


On the other hand, there were a lot of new boats along the coast. People around the globe had pitched in (and with the help of NGOs) bought a great number of small fishing boats. I took pictures of many of these boats and a few fisherman during my time in the southeast of Sri Lanka..

Alas, I quickly came to question the procedure or development strategy by which many of these boats—often painted blue and yellow—were being distributed.

That is because in some cases only certain wealthier families received boats while others received none. On the surface, this simply developed from the fact that the poorest peoples in the country had had no boats before the tsunami. Therefore, despite the fact that many had lost their tourism and restaurant related jobs, they had no claim to new boats—even if the family needed the work/wages of fishing much more than before as often several key breadwinners had lost their lives in the Great Tsunami.

On the other hand, tourist-oriented proprietors and service industry owners—such as restaurant owners and owners of recreational locations affected adversely by lack of tourism in Sri Lanka—often did, in fact, receive boats even though they had not owned boats previously.

The rationale of governments and some NGOs is that they recognized that these surviving owners of washed-away property were entrepreneurial spirits who needed a new way to earn money--as it would be impossible for a decade to rebuild infrastructure (and before many few tourists would be able to show up). This was because, overall, the infrastructure for tourism had been washed away.

Owners and dependent labor would not be able to rebuild their restaurants or facilities so close to the sea ever again. Nonetheless, I felt it unfair to restrict boat ownership (of donated boats) in many cases to the countries wealthier classes—leaving the poorest fisherman still as day laborers, regardless of the numbers of years of experience these same poorer fisherman had gained serving other wealthier owners of boats prior to the tsuname.

In short, underdevelopment was being perpetuated for some by such narrow minded development policies and practices. No wonder a chasm had grown in the sense of unity or cohesion among the coastal Lankans in the more sparsely populations hit hardest by the Great Natural Calamity of 2004.


Meanwhile I thought of the wise hotel architects, such as the own who had built my coastal resort and at the spa on a hill. That is, where I was staying, structures/facilities were located on a rise of land that served as a bull-work against one of the greatest Tsunamis in the history of mankind. The rise of the hill was no much more thirty feet higher than the sea to its south, but that was sufficient to have left the resort undamaged That simple understanding of engineering, water and the power of the sea had saved the resort. (Consequently, the resort had served numerous NGOs as home base during the first months after the Tsunami.)

I thought, “This simple wisdom concerning the importance of locating a building properly to withstand and conserve nature’s water—and other forces of nature--is as old as society is on this island.”

I ask myself, “How is it that so many people in coastal regions around the globe--from Texas to Florida to Sri Lanka—have forgotten the simple wisdom of their forefathers? I.e. location is everything.”

As an educator, I have to call all others around the globe to WISE UP! We need to demand that basic common sense be used in the construction of all future habitats on earth. If we don’t educate and demand good standards and good governance concerning habitats, disasters will continue to wash us, our dreams, and our children’s dreams away—just as the national planners allowed happen recently in New Orleans, USA.

Let’s being demanding in 2007 good (and better) education, better policies, better practices, and good investment in our children’s future: STOP THE MEDIOCRITY in thinking, planning, and governance that is washing away our lands and futures around the globe each year!



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