Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Although the devastating tsunami struck coastal areas only a few kilometers from Colombo, I have not ventured out to see any of its damage. I am not sure if I can bear to look at what the killer waves have done to my favorite beaches in Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, and elsewhere along Sri Lanka's southern coast.

The New Year dawned with the global family closely following the unfolding tragedy via satellite television and the Web. As the grim images from Banda Aceh, Chennai, Galle, and elsewhere replaced the traditional scenes of celebrations, I realized that it would soon be 60 years since I conceived the communications satellite (in Wireless World, October 1945 -- I still think it was a good idea).

I was also reminded of what Bernard Kouchner, former health minister of France and first UN governor of Kosovo, once said: "Where there is no camera, there is no humanitarian intervention." Indeed, how many of the millions of men and women who donated generously for disaster relief would have done so if they had only read about it in the newspapers?

But cameras and other communications media have to do more than just document the devastation and mobilize emergency relief. We need to move beyond body counts and aid appeals to find lasting, meaningful ways of supporting Asia's recovery.

In that sense, the Asian tsunami becomes a test for information and communications technologies (ICTs) in terms of how they can support humanitarian assistance and human development. Interestingly, two popular ICTs played a key role during the early stages.

On that fateful day, hundreds of holidaymakers captured images of the tsunami using their handheld video cameras, making this probably the most widely filmed natural disaster in history. TV networks and professionals arrived at the scene hours later -- and had to "borrow" amateur footage to tell the story.

And when electricity and telephones -- both fixed and mobile -- failed in the worst-affected areas, amateur radio enthusiasts restored the first communication links with the outside world. Courageous and resourceful radio hams were at the forefront of relief efforts in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the coast of India, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and many other locations. We might never know how many lives they saved and how many minds they put at ease, but we owe a debt to Marconi's faithful followers. As Victor Goonetilleke, president of the Radio Society of Sri Lanka, remarked, "When all else is dead, shortwave is alive."

In the coming months, these and other ICTs can be an integral part of the recovery. Journalists and development workers must now return to Asia's battered coasts, armed with video and digital cameras, to record the next big waves -- of human spirit and human perseverance.

Indeed, the real stories of survival and heroism have only just begun. Let network TV move on to the next big story (some already have). I am confident that cyberactivists and committed local journalists will keep these stories alive.

Meanwhile, let us also look beyond the current disaster and ponder what other tricks Nature might have up her sleeve.

Devastating though they are, disasters have always been a favorite element of storytellers. In my own science fiction, I have conjured many and varied disasters that happen just when everything is going according to plan. A tsunami arrives toward the end of Childhood's End (1953). In The Ghost from the Grand Banks (1990), an ambitious plan to raise the Titanic is completely wrecked by a massive storm. The Songs of Distant Earth (1986) suggested a planetary rescue plan for the ultimate disaster: the end of the world.

However, in terms of inspiring science and policy, Rendezvous With Rama (1973) may yet turn out to be my one piece of writing that saves the most number of lives.

Rama opens with an asteroid impact on Europe that obliterates northern Italy -- on the morning of 11 September 2077. (I am still spooked by randomly choosing this day, and claim no powers of prescience.) I cannot recall what turned my attention to the possible danger of asteroid impacts. It was quite an old idea in science fiction, and one that science now takes very seriously. Life-threatening impacts are more frequent than many people realize: There were three known major impacts during the 20th century alone (Siberia in 1908 and 1947, and Brazil in 1930) -- damage was minimal in all cases as, miraculously, they happened in uninhabited areas. It is only a matter of time before our luck runs out.

In Rama, I introduced a new concept. I argued that as soon as the technology permitted, we should set up powerful radar and optical search systems to detect Earth-threatening objects. The name I suggested was Spaceguard, which, together with Spacewatch, has been widely accepted. Today, astronomers in both hemispheres scan the skies looking for rogue asteroids and comets. The fact that these efforts are woefully underfunded -- and that some rely on private funding -- says how little the bean counters in governments appreciate the value of this work.

When the possible consequences of asteroid impacts on Earth are discussed, some are comforted by the fact that two-thirds of the planet's surface is ocean. In fact, we should worry more: An ocean impact can multiply damage by triggering the mother of all tsunamis.

Duncan Steel, an authority on the subject, has done some terrifying calculations of what would happen if a modest-size space rock, 200 meters in diameter, collided with Earth at a typical speed of 19 kilometers per second. As it hit the ocean's surface, it would release kinetic energy in an explosion equal to 600 megatons of TNT -- 10 times the yield of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested. Even though only a fraction of this energy would be transferred to the tsunami, such waves would carry this massive energy over great distances to faraway coasts, which would cause much more diffused destruction than would have resulted from a land impact. In the latter, the interaction between the blast wave and irregularities of the terrain like buildings, hills, and trees limits the radius of damage. On the open ocean, the wave keeps going until it runs aground.

Contrary to popular belief, we science fiction writers don't predict the future -- we try to prevent undesirable futures. As Asian scientists and governments scramble to set up systems to monitor and warn of future disasters, they should take the widest possible view, including what science fiction has cautioned about.

Let us keep an eye on the skies even as we worry about the next hazard from the depths.