Now that the tragedy of the tsunami is slowly retreating from the front pages, the accent now is on rebuilding lives, infrastructure and confidence. There is also a lot of talk about building an early warning system, which would help reduce the losses caused by such forces of nature. Currently the talk is about an EWS for tsunamis. There are a lot of views about the feasibility of such a system. While some talk about the fallibility of such systems, others talk about the difficulties in evacuating people.
There is however an inherrent problem with such a system, one which has much wider repercussions. In an address to the PTI, the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, praised the role of the press, particularly the electronic media, in informing him about the tragedy. It is scary that the Prime Minister of the country comes to know about a tragedy, of this magnitude, through the media and not the people who have been put in place to tell him exactly such things.
What use is an EWS if the news is not going to get to the right people at the right time?
There was the worrying case of a minister who had been releived of his post being kept informed because the people were not aware that he was no longer in-charge of the portfolio.
An EWS is just a technology. It is not a solution, but a tool. A tool that must be used by people to draw inferences. If either those inferences are wrong, or the people who get the data choose to ignore it, the tragedies will continue to happen.