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International Journalists Discuss Response to Tsunami Disaster


The magnitude of the loss of life and the devastation caused by the gigantic undersea earthquake on Sunday that swallowed coastlines from Indonesia to Africa cannot yet be calculated. Among the countries hardest hit were Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. VOA's Judith Latham talked with journalists from Indonesia and India about the response to the tragedy and the lessons that might be learned from it.

Estimates are of tens of thousands dead and unaccounted for, hundreds of thousands injured, millions stranded, and billions of dollars of damage. The epicenter of Sunday morning’s upheaval causing the tsunami that swept across southern Asia was about 100 kilometers northwest of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Journalist Aristedes Katoppo, the publisher of Sinar Harpan – or “Ray of Hope” – newspaper in Jakarta, said his government’s estimates of the death toll are steadily rising. A huge problem, he explained, is that there has been a breakdown in communication in most coastal areas that were swept by the tsunami and it is as yet impossible to reach many of the victims. Mr. Katoppo said he does not think the Indonesian government could have done anything to prepare its population for the disaster because only about 15 minutes elapsed between the earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean and the time that waves smashed into the beaches of the province of Aceh.

T.B. Parsuram, Washington bureau chief of the Press Trust of India, said that, although Sunday’s tsunami was caused by the world’s fourth most violent earthquake in more than a century, it was totally unexpected. And that’s because the Indian Ocean is “supposed to be immune” to this type of disturbance. But, Mr. Parsuram said, India and some other countries are now studying the sophisticated tsunami warning system in the Pacific Ocean, which is headquartered in Hawaii. He said that, in addition to the difficulties of getting relief to remote areas, a real concern now is preventing a major outbreak of water-borne disease. Mr. Parsuram said he is sure that the United States will provide generous aid because it has what he called a “tradition of aiding hard-hit countries.”

And on Wednesday President Bush assured the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand that the $35 million in relief assistance the United States has pledged to the affected countries is “only the beginning” of America’s help. In addition, President Bush said that Secretary of State Colin Powell is working with his counterparts in Japan, India, Australia, and other nations for immediate humanitarian relief and long-term recovery and reconstruction.