When a wall of water crashed across the shorelines of several Asian countries on December 26, it was a powerful reminder of just how vulnerable humanity can be to the forces of nature - especially people living in developing countries.
Dramatic and devastating, the tsunami left at least 150,000 dead, millions homeless and caused billions of dollars in damage. Fortunately, the world has responded with an enormous outpouring of support. Within days of the disaster, politicians in developed countries began to announce aid packages. Donations from the public have been even more remarkable. In fact, some aid agencies have even stopped accepting relief money specifically for the tsunami disaster because they simply don't have the capacity to spend it on the ground in the afflicted countries.
But in all our efforts to bring some hope to those suffering, we mustn't forget that the developing world needs our help every day. Those living in poorer countries do not often have access to the services and infrastructure that we take for granted. At the best of times they may not have healthy food, medical services, clean water or sanitation. In times of crisis, what little these countries have to protect their citizens can easily be overwhelmed.
We also must not forget that the tsunami isn't the only humanitarian crisis facing the developing world today. Last year, more than 1.5 million Africans died from AIDS. Every year, more than two million people die from tuberculosis and one million people die from malaria - most of them in developing countries. These diseases are part of the reason why nearly one-fifth of children born in sub-Saharan Africa will not live past the age of five.
The tsunami has also taken the spotlight off other long-suffering regions, such as Sudan and Uganda. Millions of refugees in these areas are still living in squalid camps. Such camps are breeding grounds for the same diseases that experts are concerned could become rampant in areas affected by the tsunami because of a lack of sanitation.
None of this is to say that countries suffering in the wake of the tsunami don't need our help - they do. But the tsunami was really a sobering reality check. Our world is unpredictable and disaster could strike any time. When it does, it often hurts poorer regions the most. Yet, one glance at the list of casualties from the tsunami and it becomes clear that the disaster's reach goes far beyond Asia. Canadians, Swedes, Americans and those of many other nationalities also died. Our world has really become a much smaller place.
Since the disaster, there have been calls for a better tsunami early warning system. That seems obvious. But warnings are only useful if they are heeded. And we are getting all sorts of warnings about the future that we continue to ignore. We were told, for example, that coral reefs and mangrove forests helped buffer coastlines from damaging waves. Yet many such ecosystems in the Indian Ocean were lost to development in recent years - ecosystems that may have offered some protection to some areas from the tsunami.
Scientists are also continuing to warn us about the effects of climate change - especially on developing nations that lack the infrastructure to respond to more frequent severe weather events, rising sea levels and changing precipitation patterns that a warming world is expected to bring.
Unfortunately, while the developed world's response to the tsunami disaster has been heartening, our response to climate change has been tepid at best. It's not that humanity lacks the capacity to respond. Obviously, judging from recent events, humanity's capacity for compassion can be profound. It's just unfortunate that it takes a tsunami to trigger it.