A memorial service for the tsunami victims was held here yesterday, attended by the leaders and more than 7,000 people. Singapore was lucky to escape the devastation.
The tsunami cut a wide swath through the neighbouring countries, hitting Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and further away, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India. It raged across the Indian Ocean all the way to East Africa. Yet Singapore was spared.
It did not lie in the path of the storm, which raged in a different direction. Though Indonesia suffered the most, its southernmost parts were not affected. Batam, for example, which is close to Singapore, was spared as was Johor, the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia, which is just across the Causeway from Singapore.
Singapore was not hit, but it will suffer too. This little island depends on trade and tourism. It has especially close links with Indonesia and Malaysia. Business is likely to suffer and possibly tourism as well. Tourists often pass through Singapore as part of a Southeast Asian package tour, taking in Thailand, Malaysia and parts of Indonesia. Those countries are likely to draw fewer visitors now. So it’s hard to imagine how the numbers could go up here.
Singapore is helping with the relief efforts. Armed forces units have been sent to rebuild Aceh, the worst hit region in Indonesia.
The concern here is genuine. It has also been a personal tragedy for some here who have lost friends or relatives, who were holidaying in Phuket when the tsunami struck on Boxing Day.
The whole region seems to be passing through bad times. Every year has brought bad news since 1997. First there was the Asian currency crisis. Then, as the economies began to recover, came Sars. And now it must deal with the tsunami. The magnitude of the tragedy — more than 150,000 killed — is a sobering reminder of how helpless we are against the fury of nature. Scientists may be able to clone animals, modify crops, send rockets and satellites into space, but we are no closer to quelling earthquakes and hurricanes than primitive man.