After admiring equids for thousands of years, humans may be driving the last populations of wild zebra, asses and horses to extinction.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Volume 292 Number 3
8 SA Perspectives
Tsunami relief does not replace development.
10 How to Contact Us
10 On the Web
16 50, 100 & 150 Years Ago
18 News Scan
■ The tsunami's human and geophysical scars.
■ Cold fusion is still lukewarm.
■ Personalized nutrition. 34
■ A buoyant alternative to satellites.
■ How do astronauts stay clean?
■ By the Numbers: The gay population. 94
■ Data Points: Terrorism and civil rights.
He shoots, he scores: climatologist Michael Mann and his "hockey stick" graph of global temperatures.
How digital cameras are developing.
The changes in the new edition of Gray's Anatomy are more than skin deep—and beneficial to physicians and students alike.
32 Skeptic by michael shermer
The fossil fallacy and the nature of scientific proof.
102 Anti Gravity by steve mirsky
When meteorites go wrong.
104 Ask the Experts
How long can someone live without food? How do scientists detect short-lived new elements?
Cover image by Kenn Brown; page 3: image by Jean-Francois Podevin; photograph at left: Jon Golden
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In the Andaman Islands, a helicopter delivering food and water to survivors of December's tsunami briefly found itself under assault from the arrows of xenophobic Sentinelese tribesmen. Outsiders feared the flooding might finish the already endangered societies native to the islands. But the Sentinelese attack was welcome proof that at least some of them were still alive.
In these first weeks after the tsunami, with the death toll still climbing past 225,000, good news has been redefined as the absence of bad. Reports exult over selected sur-vivors—a baby floating on a mattress, an injured model, a pregnant woman rescued from the open sea—and many of us are grateful for word of friends and family who are safe. But for every one of them, thousands of others unknown to us were lost. Meanwhile the ranks of the injured and homeless stretch from Indonesia to Africa, and the questions and concerns that their plight raises are not confined to that side of the planet.
The outpouring of emergency aid will be a great help to the ravaged countries, but disaster relief is an inadequate, expensive substitute for more timely improvements to their infrastructures. The most obvious example was that Indian Ocean nations lacked a tsunami-warning system like the one in the Pacific, but that omission may be forgivable. Tsunamis are rare in the Indian Ocean. Undersea sensors can cost a quarter of a million dollars apiece and have steep maintenance costs. India, Sri Lanka and the other
wave-torn nations had far more urgent spending priorities. (In January a chastened India announced belatedly that it would invest $29 million on tsunami detectors after all.)
The real humanitarian fiasco is not the inadequate preparation of these nations, and many others, for freakish catastrophes. It is their inadequate preparation for the day-to-day horrors that routinely slaughter their populations. Millions of people die annually from malaria and AIDS—more than the equivalent of a tsunami a month. Lack of clean water in parts of Africa promotes disease and fuels civil conflicts. Poor countries face chronic crises so dire that the world's sensibilities have been numbed to them.
The U.S. and other industrial nations need to be more forthcoming with aid outside of calamitous times. In 2000, as part of the Millennium Development Goals program, the United Nations General Assembly embraced the target that rich states would pledge 0.7 percent of their national incomes to development assistance. Few countries (and the U.S. is not among them) are living up to that promise. Making matters worse, countries sending tsunami aid now will probably subtract those donations from their development aid budgets. In mid-January the Millennium program issued a new recommendation that countries donate just 0.5 percent, a retrenchment from the old goal but still twice the average now in practice. Even that figure has been criti- | cized as unrealistic. £
Sound public health policy needs more than fitful, «
reactive generosity. When the media focus our atten- £
tion on the aftermath of tsunamis and other disas- J
ters, it is easy to empty our wallets for the agonized 5
sufferers. But we need to do more on the fairest days SA
for the billions out of sight and out of mind, whose IMI
survival depends on more days without bad news. e
THE EDITORS [email protected]
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