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How will the tsunami change Maldives

9 January 2005 No Comment

The tsunami that hit the Maldives on December 26 is the largest natural disaster in the recorded history of the small country. This disaster is a regional one causing destruction in several countries in South and South-East Asia. In many aspects, this is an international catastrophe; several Europeans and Americans have died in the wake of the killer waves.

As societies try to manage the disaster and make plans for the future, one this is certain. This disaster will have long-term effects and will shape the course of history.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. has written a well-researched article in The New York Times about the impact of natural disasters on history. Dr. Brian M. Fagan, an archaeologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, tells McNeil Jr., that in 1550 B.C., the Mediterranean overflowed with the melting of the last Ice Age and covered human settlements in the area. And in about 1600 B.C., the Santorino volcano melted and sent waves across Mediterranean. The destruction it caused to Crete, the capital of Minoan Empire, was instrumental in weakening and the ultimate downfall of the empire. Likewise, earthquakes, El-Nino storms and a tsunami may have weakened Moche civilisation of Peru in sixth century A.D.

The Dec. 26 tsunami will probably not end a civilization. But it did worsen the prospects for a nation’s existence. The Maldives, dependent on tourism, lost habitable islands and a quarter of its 95 resorts, and suffered damage equal to double its gross domestic product. The government’s spokesman admitted that its future was in peril. (In 2001, Tuvalu, a nation of nine coral atolls, agreed with New Zealand that all 11,000 Tuvalans would resettle there.)

Dr Diane E. Davis, a professor of political sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pointed out political significance of such events to McNeil Jr. The Mexico City earthquake of 1985 was a catalyst to end 71 years of autocratic rule in Mexico.

In relief efforts run by the Mexican military and police, aid packages were brazenly stolen, and police officers were assigned to rescue sewing machines from a collapsed garment factory while bodies lay in its rubble. Instead of rebuilding merchant blocks in downtown Mexico City, the government tried to clear them for modern buildings.

The earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999 contributed to improved relations between the two countries as Dr. Michael H. Glantz, an expert on early warning systems at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells McNeil Jr.

It is too early to determine if the current disaster will pave the way for better relations between rival factions in Aceh or Sri Lanka. And what will the future hold for the tiny island nation of the Maldives?

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