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2004 Tsunami Helped To Create Peace

The 2004 Tsunami: Good overpowers evil.
by Emsie Ferreira
Bonn (AFP) Mar 29, 2006
Wars were one of the main problems hampering efforts to save lives in natural disasters but catastrophes like the Asian tsunami have helped to promote peace, UN experts said here on Tuesday.

The death toll in Sri Lanka, one of the countries hit by the December 2004 tsunami, was aggravated by the conflict waged by Tamil Tiger rebels while famine in east Africa has been worsened by the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war, UN advisor Benjamin Wisner said.

"When the bodies were counted in Sri Lanka, we found that many of the deadly wounds were inflicted by barbed wire fences put as barriers in a bid to control certain areas," he told AFP.

Wisner was speaking on the sidelines of the UN's Third International Conference on Early Warning in the western German city of Bonn.

The conference has been discussing the creation of warning systems all over the world to alert people to climatic disasters like the tsunami, hurricanes or droughts and floods.

Wisner said that in Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of the east African nations gripped by a drought threatening 11 million people with starvation, many farmers cannot cultivate their land because it is littered with landmines left over from the two neighbours' 1998-2000 war.

And the UN's top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, has told the conference that humanitarian efforts in Sudan's Darfur region were at risk of being undone by a conflict that has been dragging on since 2003.

The Darfur war is seen as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises with up to 300,000 people dead and an estimated 2.4 million displaced.

Salvano Briceno, the head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said on Tuesday that lawlessness in Somalia was hampering efforts to create a tsunami alert system there.

"We have a big problem in Somalia because the country does not even have a government," he said of the east African nation that was plunged into chaos after the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Communities who have lived in a state of war also tend to resist efforts to warn them to evacuate in the event of natural disaster, Wisner said.

"People who have been living in a conflict are very mistrustful of such orders. It is a big problem in trying to reach communities with a warning system," he said.

But delegates at the meeting said there was "a flipside" to catastrophes in that they have sometimes proven to promote peace between warring sides.

When a massive earthquake killed some 73,000 people in Kashmir in October India, despite its dispute with Pakistan over that region, took rapid action to help humanitarian efforts.

"India allowed hundreds of tonnes of railway supplies to go through and also let family members through the borders," Wisner said.

And in Indonesia's Aceh province, one of the areas worst-hit by the Asian tsunami, the disaster led to a peace agreement in August between the Jakarta government and rebels that had been waging a separatist conflict since 1967.

"Aceh is one of the success stories of peace following a disaster," said Debarati Guha-Sapir, a public health expert working with the United Nations.

She said in Indonesia and Sri Lanka the tsunami allowed a "tidal wave of international aid organisations to sweep into conflict-ridden areas" that were long isolated and open the door for change.

In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers and the government were cooperating, often through intermediaries, to bring relief to tsunami survivors and create warning systems against future sea surges, said Sarath Weerawarnakula, a member of the national disaster strategy team.

But one case where so-called "disaster diplomacy" failed, delegates recalled, was the United States' rejection of an offer Cuba made on September 2 to send medical doctors to New Orleans to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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