In the April 2020 issue of Scientific American, there was an excellent article entitled “The Aid Tsunami,” authored by Ajay Saini and Simron J. Singh on pages 59-65.
They discuss the catastrophic tsunami that that hit the Nicobar Islands (off the coast of Thailand) on December 26, 2004.
They discuss the devastation that affected the indigenous people and their villages. They spoke about the massive humanitarian effort that ensued, with more that $14 billion dollars donated by both private and governmental benefactors. The relief effort seemed like an amazing pouring out of kindness by people.
However, it turns out that there would end up being a darker side to this. The authors of this article were trying to convey several key ideas to the reader. One of these ideas centered around health. As the authors point out, “…benefactors inundated an essentially isolated society with packaged foods, a wide range of electronic and consumer goods, and enormous cash handouts.” Years later, with regards to the natives of the island, “…many of its members were beset by alcoholism, diabetes and other formerly alien ailments.”
They go on to state, “…over the years prolonged stress, sedentary lifestyles and a taste for processed foods had taken a toll. Previously unknown ailments such as hypertension appeared. The islands lack modern medical facilities, and most of the traditional healers — with their extensive knowledge of plant-based medicines — had perished during the tsunami. The Nicobarese began to die of heart attacks, diabetes, injuries, respiratory diseases, pneumonia, malaria and other diseases. Alcohol became a scourge as well.”
One of my take aways from this article reinforces ideas that I already feel strongly about. Specifically, that physical inactivity and poor diets will greatly increase the risks of developing many chronic degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart attacks.
However, there is very good news here. Similar to the tragic outcomes suffered by the Nicobarerse when their lifestyles were changed, the converse is also true. When unhealthy lifestyles are transformed into healthy ones, many of their associated disease conditions can be improved and even reversed. This is incredibly powerful information.
Not only is there power in this information, there is power in you. You have choices everyday. Over time, the choices you make will determine your life.
In school I learned that one of the reasons it is important to study history is so that present day people can learn from the mistakes that were made by others in the past. I believe that we can all learn a valuable lesson from the Nicobarese.