Sunday, August 12, 2007


Weather calamities seem to have an eye for Asia this summer although many other parts of the world are far from immune to “Mother’s” growing chaos. In case you do not follow the weather news, here are some of the latest headlines:
“Romania on Flood Alert”
“South Asia monsoon toll passes 2,000.”
“At least 13 dead in Pakistan rains.”
“Rivers above alert levels as rain subsides over central Europe.”
“Storms batter Ohio.”
“Extreme floods hit 500 million people a year.”
“Floods, landslides kill 35 in China.”
“Floods show need for disaster risk reduction: UN.”
“Hong Kong issues cyclone warning.”
“Did global warming cause NYC tornado?”

There are a lot more headlines dealing with the tornado in Brooklyn, rising death toll in Asia due to flooding, sweltering heat that is still rampant in parts of the U.S., deaths from flooding and starvation in Vietnam, deaths from storms in the Philippines, a ‘mini-tsunami’ in Algeria and an announcement by the UN that many parts of the world have confronted record breaking heat waves, floods, storms and cold snaps including snowfall in Africa.

What is evident from many of these stories is that governments are not ready to deal with repeated natural disasters. In 2005 an agreement, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, was signed by 168 countries in Kobe, Japan. Between 2001 and 2005 84% of deaths due to natural disasters were caused by flooding. It is clear that, like many well meaning agreements, that many governments have not taken their commitments to heart. Given that more and increased flooding is inevitable, what will governments do to prevent further loss of life and property? When will governments get their heads out of the sand and realize that climate change is a much bigger threat than terrorism?

The ISDR says that modest investments in early warning systems, evacuation plans, public education and better building standards can greatly reduce the loss of life and property. Unfortunately, many nations are too poor for even these modest efforts and if disaster strikes, limited funds must go to relief. The richer nations have tended to take an “It won’t happen here attitude” and the effects of that line of thing have been clear in the U.S., England and central Europe.

One must keep in mind that much of this flooding is due to heavy and long rains and does not include what may happen in terms of hurricanes and monsoons. Add to these equation problems from heat waves, earthquakes, droughts, freak snows and tornadoes hitting the downtown areas of cities and it is evident that we could be facing some real problems. All of these natural disasters are costing billions of dollars in property loss, disrupting economies, creating social chaos and costing lives. How deep are the pockets of relief agencies and charitable organizations?

We are standing in the middle of the environmental highway and Mother Nature is driving right at us. There is a lot of talk and very little action. Policy makers are still acting like we have scores of years to “begin” to solve these problems. Perhaps it is so out of hand that governments fear telling people how bad things may get. Panic is not a pretty sight. It has been said that disasters can bring out the best in people but events in Pakistan and India have put that notion to a severe test; the grade is not encouraging.

It is a little easier to offer assistance when only a relatively small or remote population is affected by disaster. When disaster is widespread, however, disaster brings out the worst and not the best of human nature. As the American economy begins to falter under the pressures home foreclosures and increasing debt, will the U.S. be so generous to foreign lands drowning under monsoons and other environmental disasters? When we face another Katrina, how much will be left for others particularly when we do know how to effectively and efficiently deal with such issues? As it is said in the “11th Hour,” the clock is ticking. What is in your weather forecast?

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