WARNING SYSTEMS | The human race is always willing to invest obscene amounts in tools of destruction, but not much in systems that can save lives, Ahmad Humeid writes
As we are witnessing the greatest natural disaster of our generation unfold in Asia, the human race’s inverted priorities come into sharp focus.
When the earth shakes or the skies pour down it is often with such overwhelming force that we, humans, are totally helpless. Even our best technologies and our most sophisticated engineering solutions cannot prevent natural disasters are fully protect us from them. But, on the other hand, it is clear that technology and engineering can be applied to save lives. An earthquake in technologically rich Japan is unlikely to have the same effect as the one that hot the technologically poor Iranian city of Bam.
The human race has, so far, managed to put a man on the moon, spaceships on Mars, wire up the planet earth with the internet and put thousands of satellites into orbit. That’s not to mention that nations, both rich and poor, invest untold amounts of money into military technologies, including atomic bombs, laser guided missiles, floating airbases, missile defence systems, drones.. (the list could go on and on).
But when it comes to investing in technology that would assist in relief efforts, or, even better, early warning systems the experts are telling us that installing such technologies is perceived as ‘too expensive’. This ‘perception’ is explained as follows: If disasters of the magnitude we are currently witnessing hit the world, say, every 100 years, the issue of installing early warning system is considered of low priority to most nations, especially developing ones, who have to deal with the more immediate needs of feeding and sheltering their people
Yet at the same time, rich, and also not-so-rich, countries have been willing to heavily invest in their nuclear arsenals and other weapon technologies although they would (hopefully) never be used! It is truly sad, even insane, that weapons are considered an ‘insurance policy’ that nations are always willing to buy. Tsunami warning systems? Forget it.
Networked sea-bed and wave measuring equipment, capable of sending data to satellites that would, in turn, relay warning signals to ground based centres would have helped save lives in this latest disaster. The cost of deploying these and other technologies is not cheap, but you can bet that it would cost a fraction of what our world spends on military equipment year in, year out.
In the aftermath of the disaster we are seeing how digital technology can support the relief efforts. Global communication systems and the internet are used by aid agencies to share information. Pleas for donations for the victims are being published by corporate and e-commerce sites like Amazon.com on their homepages. There even have been reports of family re-unions because of web postings. Our world has indeed become a small, interconnected village as we follow up minute-by-minute news of this unimaginable disaster.
Still, it is a dismal failure of humanity that it has not yet found the will to seriously invest in installing reliable, advanced disaster warning and prevention systems.
What is even more saddening is the fact that even when such warning systems are in place, those who operate them are often under pressure NOT to use them to issue warnings. Mass evacuations based on such warnings not only cost money but they also cause a ‘loss in productivity’ if the alarm turns out false. And, as everyone knows, when productivity goes down, there’s less money for the taxman. And if the taxman cannot collect enough money, how are governments supposed to pay for their weapons bills?!.