News / Asia

Q&A with Michele Gamburd: Nine Years After the Tsunami

On December 26, 2004, a massive undersea earthquake near Sumatra spawned a massive tsunami that devastated coastal areas of the India Ocean, including Sri Lanka. What poured in immediately after was relief aid that produced a sudden tidal wave of changes in social structures. Michele Ruth Gamburd, Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Portland State University, in the northwestern U.S. state of Oregon, is very familiar with the small village of Naeaegama. Naeaegame is about 80 kilometers south of the capital, Colombo, and where Gamburd conducted years of research. Her latest book, The Golden Wave, was a product of her return visit following the tsunami. Below are excerpts from the interview.
 
STEVENSON: The tsunami hits, and we have all of this aid flowing into an area that probably was not that wealthy, although tourism certainly brings in a fair bit of money. And then we set up these interesting social dynamics.
 
GAMBURD: One of the things that the aid did, it artificially inflated social statuses. This particular event brought in a lot of help in the form of new houses, new fishing boats, new bicycles, new sewing machines, pots and pans, and mosquito nets, and clothing, and school books and all things that mark status. All people felt that the survivors of the tsunami deserved help. But they also were a little bit worried that people who didn’t deserve help were profiting perhaps a little too much from that relief that came in. There is a poem that I heard in several forms that conveys people’s sense of what happened with the aid. “The people who had, lost. The people who didn’t have, gained.” So it is basically a poem about class, that the middle class people who were fairly well off lost more than they received in compensation. But the poor people who did not have very much received more than they lost. So there is a sense then that everybody ended up “leveled” by the tsunami.


STEVENSON: How was this foreign aid distributed? Was it handled by the NGO’s (non-government organizations) or was the aid given to local authorities who then doled it out?

GAMBURD: That is a really interesting question and one that caused a lot of concern in Sri Lanka. Who is administering this aid and how are they doing it?  If you think about it, it is not that easy. There are a lot of well-meaning donors who have things that they want to give, and you have a lot of deserving tsunami survivors who have needs that need to be filled. And how do you match that aid, the money or the things to the deserving people. How do you know those are the right people? The NGOs in particular were looking for local intermediaries who could speak the language, who were hopefully politically savvy, who knew the people, and who would keep them from getting ripped off.

STEVENSON: We are now at the anniversary of the tsunami. Next year will mark 10 years since that event. As you have seen it, how has the trajectory of this village changed because of the tsunami and this aid that has flowed in, now that we have a little bit of time perspective?

GAMBURD: That is a good question. For most people along the southwest coast, the tsunami is over. Life is returning to normal. I would say though there has been a big change along the coast. In the relief process was they set a 300 meter buffer zone on the southwest coast. A zone where nobody could rebuild. The problem arose however in that it was very difficult to find suitable land. The government of Sri Lanka was going to purchase that land and let it be used for that reconstruction. The land that they could find at an affordable price was inland in spots that were not very desirable. The buffer zone was reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters. Everybody whose house had been within the 300 meter zone were still given a house and land elsewhere. They were not given deeds to that land so they were unable to sell it. So what happened then between the 100 and 300 meter mark was this massive transfer of property. Rich interested parties were busy buying up land from people who had lived there for generations.

STEVENSON: You are based in Oregon, a place where many say a tsunami is possible and could happen there. What do you feel that we learn from what happened in Sri Lanka to apply for preparedness in Oregon, or Sri Lanka or elsewhere?

GAMBURD: I feel that the media, TV and radio, has done a very good job of bringing tsunamis to people’s consciousness here in Oregon and around the globe. The last big one is dated to January 26, 1700. And we know this because that tsunami propagated all the way across the Pacific and hit the coast of Japan, just as Japan’s tsunami of 2011 propagated across the Pacific and hit various spots on the Oregon and the California coast here in the U.S. The media really brought it home what it means when water in this quantity flows ashore and comes in where it is not welcome. So I think it is a warning to people who live in the run-up zone. I think the other thing that we need to think about is how we involve the survivors in their own rescue.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid