“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has struggled with the destructive forces of nature.
This conflict between man and nature has included our responses to everything from a single event killing large numbers to the efforts of medical science to prolong life and fight disease.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones, drought, floods, landslides, wildfires, typhoons, avalanches, meteorites, diseases and tsunamis headline the world’s natural disasters.
Our preparations for such disasters and our proactive efforts to avoid the worst results have often been severely lacking.
We fail to plan for deadly events that have a high probability of happening; and we ignore the steps that could be taken to prevent the worst outcomes.
In 1998, three American high school students created a website about Natural Disasters. They got their information from available sources on many types of nature’s devastation, including five links on tsunamis.
If secondary school students can do this, it seems incomprehensible that adults responsible for others’ safety have failed.
Despite the examples of preparation for tsunami in both Hawaii and Alaska, none of the places hit by the latest tsunami were even vaguely prepared. A natural disaster that need not have had such a devastating effect wasted more than 150,000 people according to UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland!
The death toll eclipses a cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1991, killing 138,000 people. The places hit included Thailand, with 13,000 dead and Indonesia, with an estimated 80,000 dead.
Both Thailand and Indonesia are Member States of the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System. There would appear to be no excuse for their failure to use it.
The other places hit included Sri Lanka, with a reported death toll of 28,500, India with 14,488 dead, Malaysia, Maldives, Somalia, Myanmar, Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya and Bangladesh—all of whom should have had warning systems.
According to former Tsunami Society President Professor Tad Murty of the University of Manitoba:
There’s no reason for a single individual to get killed in a tsunami, since most areas had anywhere from 25 minutes to four hours before a wave hit. So, once again, because of indifference and corruption thousands of innocent people have died needlessly.
How prepared are we for nature’s other tempests?
Now the Philippines and Southeast Asia have been hit by Haiyan, the largest typhoon in recorded history. Early reports on damage included 1,200 dead from only one area. That estimate has been increased to 3,200, with some guessing the total could be as many as 10,000.
Parts of the Philippines were inundated with water, flooding as much as a tsunami. The winds were the strongest in history. Very little could be done to prevent the damage inflicted by nature.
However, after five days, nature’s victims still had no clean water, food, medical help or housing. That response time, allowing people to die, is inexcusable.
Recent natural disasters, in addition to typhoon Haiyan, have included an earthquake in the Philippines, a hurricane along America’s east coast, a typhoon in Japan, fires in New South Wales, a cyclone in India, floods in Colorado and a tornado in Illinois.
How ready have these communities been for nature’s destructive forces? Could they have taken more protective steps?
We need to get proactive—take preventative measures—to reduce the carnage caused by “natural disasters”. Now is the time to prepare for untamed nature: ready communities for the worst they can expect, and take climate change seriously.
Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly op-ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.