Was on my way to school today when I happen to chance upon a man handing out sheets of printed A4 paper.
Thought it would be some interesting political view as I have encountered such distributions in the past whenever the GE draws near.
The man just said “Thank You” as I took a copy and glancing at it, turned out to be a photocopy of just 2 newspaper clippings from ST, warning that Singapore could be hit and flooded by a tsunami.
What puzzles me is the intentions of such distribution. There is no indication of any affiliation to any party, group or organisation. Just two additional quotes along with the articles: “The person who controls the river floods, controls the country.” and “As in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man.”
The quotes seem to imply some cultish organisation but I shall not speculate further. Is such distribution actually legal?
Anyway it could be time to really think if the Civil Defence has actually considered such a situation and what plans they have if any. So far it has mostly been on paper but already some are praising the efficency of our Civil Defence. I don’t wish for a real situation to find out but if such does happen, I think the assurance is worth exchanging all our current gripes and issues for.
The articles with the highlights in the cutting:
Spore and Msia ‘not safe from tsunami’
Thailand’s now iconic meteorologist, Dr Smith Dharmasaroja, who in 1998 predicted a killer tsunami would hit Thailand one day and was ignored, told The Straits Times that Singapore and Malaysia are also in danger from a future earthquake and tsunami.
‘I believe the epicentre of future quakes will shift northwards, north of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
‘A big earthquake with a more northerly epicentre than the Dec 26 quake will generate a tsunami which will have a more direct route down to the Strait of Malacca, swamping Singapore and Malaysia.
‘As the sea passage narrows, more water will build up and the wave will become bigger.
‘Singapore is relatively low-lying and quite flat, and would be badly affected. Remember, in December, the tsunami was 30m high at Banda Aceh. At Khao Lak, it was 16m high,’ he said.
Dr Smith, 70, retired as chief of Thailand’s Meteorological Department well before last December’s disaster.
But before that, in 1998, he had warned first in a speech and then in a memo that Thailand’s Andaman coast was at risk from a killer tsunami.
Tragically, his warning, though widely reported by the media, was ignored. Government officials, fearful of tourists staying away, branded him a dangerous man with a loose screw. The authorities in Phuket castigated him and said he was not welcome to visit.
After the tsunami, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra recalled him and made him chairman of a committee tasked with developing a national disaster warning centre and strategy.
‘I’m not happy that I made the right prediction,’ he told The Straits Times. ‘Nobody can accurately predict an earthquake, you can only assume from historical data.’
He said that big natural disasters occur in 80- to 100-year cycles, apparently randomly across the world.
‘If you speak out too much, forecast too much, you will get a lot of criticism, from government agencies, the tourism sector and so forth. People have been blaming me for years for warning of earthquakes.’
Explaining the northward shift of future epicentres, Dr Smith stressed: ‘This is no joke. I would like you to put this message out to Singapore and Malaysia.’
The researcher working on the hypothesis, who did not want to be named, told The Straits Times the research was ongoing and final results were not yet ready.
But Dr Smith said: ‘I have seen the simulations that indicate this and they look believable. From my own experience, it is possible.
‘Only a few days ago, there was a 6.1 quake in the Andaman sea near the Nicobar islands, which is about 200 miles north of the Dec 26 quake. So this is an indication that the epicentre is moving north.’
Damage and death from natural disasters has always been something of an Asian affliction, with the last 10 months being worse than usual.
And given the geology and climate of much of Asia, that is likely to continue.
Asia is home to around 60 per cent of the world’s population, which means major natural disasters that hit populated areas kill more people.
As far back as the 1700s, storms regularly killed thousands in Asia. In October 1737, the Hooghly cyclone killed an estimated 300,000 in the area now known as the Indian city of Kolkata.
In 1833, a quake off Sumatra generated a tsunami which reached north-western Australia.
On Oct 31, 1876, a powerful cyclone wiped the town of Backergunge in what is now Bangladesh off the face of the Earth, killing around 100,000.
In 1935, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Quetta in modern-day Pakistan killed 50,000.
In 2002, Dr Satoru Nishikawa, executive director of the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre in Japan, noted that between 1975 and 2000, Asia accounted for 88 per cent of the total population of the world affected by natural disasters.
Last year’s Dec 26 tsunami, the March earthquake in Sumatra, an earthquake in Iran and last week’s tremor in Kashmir sharply lifted the death toll and damage from natural disasters in Asia this year. More than 260,000 people have died so far – and the year has nearly three more months left.
With a few exceptions, Asian governments have by and large done little in the way of disaster preparedness and mitigation. This is often due to resource constraints, but experts say it is also a result of insufficient attention being paid to scientific evidence and not enough money being put into preparedness.
There is worse to come across Asia unless urgent measures are taken to safeguard the continent’s at-risk populations.
University of Colorado seismology professor Roger Bilham, who shares other experts’ concern about the future in Asia, told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview that a direct hit on a large city will kill numerous people living in ‘weak structures’.
Four years ago, an Indian and American seismology team warned that ‘one or more great earthquakes’, with a death toll of 200,000-plus, may be ‘overdue’ in a ‘large fraction of the Himalayas’.
This week, international experts reiterated that the Kashmir earthquake could be just a sample of worse to come.
‘The recent earthquake in Kashmir left a large amount of energy untapped. The regions to the north-west and south-east are now closer to failure but we have no precedent for saying they will go next,’ said the renowned Prof Bilham, who arrived in Pakistan this week, fresh from a trip to the Andamans to study last year’s undersea earthquake.
Last weekend, India’s Secretary for Science and Technology, Mr V.S. Ramamurthy, told the Sunday Express newspaper that this is a timely cue ‘to get our act together for seismic planning’.
‘Nature has been kind enough to give us a powerful reminder but thankfully the Earth has not delivered an immensely devastating blow as was being forecast.’
Experts say about 50 million people are at risk from earthquakes in the Himalayan region.
Thailand’s Dr Smith Dharmasaroja, who in 1998 predicted that a tsunami would one day hit the country’s Andaman coast, told The Straits Times he agreed with new evidence that global warming is creating stronger typhoons.
But for typhoons, there is at least technology now to see them coming and project their course, he said. This is not yet the case with earthquakes.
Dr Smith shares the bitterness that several other experts feel at being ignored by the authorities in high-risk countries.
Just days before the March earthquake in Sumatra which killed 2,000, seismology professor John McCloskey from the University of Ulster in Britain had predicted the precise location as well as the strength – though not the exact timing – of the quake.
He told The Straits Times over the phone that when he published his paper, he was widely criticised in Indonesia. ‘The nature of science is that not everyone agrees,’ he said.
‘But the attacks on my work in Indonesia were more rhetoric than science. In the end, what we said was vindicated. That has increased the confidence we have in the work we are doing.’
But he is not optimistic that the authorities would be more inclined to listen the next time around.
What also hampers scientists in the region is a lack of systematic data collection and data-sharing.
Said Dr Anond Snidvongs of Sea Start, a Bangkok-based think-tank dedicated to reducing uncertainties in forecasting and assessing the impact of environmental change in South-east Asia: ‘Not just Thailand, but countries in the region need to work more closely together.
‘Data in some cases becomes a proprietary issue, and every country wants to have its own warning system. Also, government bureaucrats rarely listen to scientists. This is partly understandable because scientists also squabble among themselves, and because their language is too specialised.’
At a workshop on disaster management in 2002, Dr Nishikawa pointed out that it was a series of devastating typhoons in the 1940s and 1950s which convinced the Japanese government it was time to develop concrete disaster preparedness plans.
In 1961, the country’s first legislation on disaster counter-measures was passed in Parliament. He recalled an ancient Japanese proverb which goes: ‘The person who controls the river floods, controls the country.’
Hopefully, the rest of Asia will soon muster a similar safe, rather than sorry, resolve.
Articles by Nirmal Gosh
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 2005-10-15