Tsunami: Turning the Waves of Disaster into Waves of Hope

Tsunami, a word unknown to most of us entered our vocabulary forever on December 26th. That day when the people of South Asia had hardly finished their Christmas celebrations, the tsunami caused destruction well beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. It shocked all of us and exposed our vulnerability to forces of nature by the extent of its unprecedented geographical scope. While it caused most destruction in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, the dead included citizens of Sweden, Somalia and even the United States of America.

What is tsunami?
Tsunami, a Japanese word that means “harbor wave”, is caused by a vertical disturbance in the ocean, like a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. It has mainly occurred in Pacific Ocean as it has earthquake and volcanic zones. The countries around the Pacific share a tsunami warning system which was established after the 1946 tsunami in Hawaii. The countries around the Indian Ocean have no such system as they had not experienced many big tsunamis before and were caught off guard when it struck in December.

The floor of the Indian Ocean is moving north at the rate of 2.5 inches per year forcing itself under the Burma plate to its east. On December 26th, stresses that were gradually accumulating forced the Burma plate to snap upwards. This caused an earthquake measured at 9.0 on Richter scale and sent shock waves through the water. These waves with wavelength of more than hundreds of miles and speed that can reach 500 miles an hour are called tsunami. You will not notice these waves in the middle of an ocean but when they reach the shore, the decreased depth of water decreases its wavelength and increase its height which then crashes into the shores causing widespread devastation.

Waves of disaster:
The impact of the tsunami that hit South Asia can not be explained in words. The number of dead is around 150,000 and many more have been left homeless. The death toll does not make it the worst natural disaster in history (500,000 people died in Bangladesh in 1970 cyclone) but its geographical reach puts it at the top of nature’s fury on us. Many more can die from diseases like malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, cholera and not to mention the lasting psychological impact on millions of people.
The cost of relief and rebuilding will run into billions of dollars. Sri Lanka has declared a national emergency; Thailand has estimated the damage to be around 0.36% of its GDP in 2003, and the list goes on. The major challenge to bring relief and rehabilitation work lies in getting the supplies to affected people. Some of the hit areas are the most underdeveloped parts of the world and any infrastructure that they had was completely destroyed by the tsunami.

In short, no amount of money can bring back all that was lost but this disaster can bring in all of us the commitment to help those in need.

Waves of hope:
The world community came together to help the victims of the tsunami in a way never seen before. Money poured from different corners of the world with Japan emerging as the most generous donor by pledging $500 million.

This tsunami disaster brought truce between hostile communities and gave political hope of reaching solution to long lasting disputes. The Achenese and the Indonesian government, Muslims and Buddhists in southern Thailand, Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanks, came together to deal with the crises forgetting their history of conflict. The geographical reach of the disaster underscored the point that world is a global village and no conscientious person can ignore the suffering of anyone in any part of the world.

What can HBS community do?
The HBS community came together to donate at least $100,000 through various agencies (i.e. Red Cross, Prime Ministers Relief Fund in India etc.) over the holidays. HBS is demographically a microcosm of the world and has many potential leaders who will go out and make an impact in different parts of the world. We have a potential to do a lot more towards helping the tsunami victims.

There is a group of students working together with different clubs on campus to coordinate a joint effort. Participation and contribution from each and every member of the HBS community is essential for the success of these initiatives. There are four major events being planned over the next two months:

1. TGIF on Friday (1/20/2004): 1/20 is the last day Harvard will match contribution.

2. Fundraising Party in First week of February: HBS students like to party and this is an opportunity to party while supporting a worthy cause.

3. EC Auction in Third week of February: Campus wide EC auction will be organized in late February. In addition an Alumni auction will be organized when they have a reunion.

4. HBS wide cultural show in first week of March: The plan is to organize a cultural show that will have performance from different countries and cultures represented on campus.

There is also need for people who would like to volunteer to work on the ground during the summer. We are in touch with various organizations that need volunteers and we can match interest of people who volunteer with an appropriate opportunity.

Now that Tsunami has entered our vocabulary, it is inherent upon us to associate it with need for compassion and generosity rather than waves of destruction.

Editor’s Note:
Please email tsunami@mba2005.hbs.edu if you would like to participate or help with any of these activities. Please also email if you have any ideas about any new events, so that organizers can coordinate different activities on campus.