Aug 04

Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters

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Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are synonymous with natural hazards. Sometimes, the two are even interchanged. Actually, there is a thin margin that defines the difference of the two. Natural hazards are dangers that should be foreseen in nature like earthquakes and tidal waves. A natural hazard becomes a natural disaster if it has casualties.

In his book Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development, and People (2003), G. Bankoff discussed that natural disasters are the outcome of natural hazard. Examples of which are volcanic eruption, earthquake, landslide, and other incidence that no human can stop. These natural disasters affect human lives and activities, that they can kill or inflict economic instability to a certain locality.

“Human vulnerability, exacerbated by the lack of planning or appropriate emergency management, leads to financial, environmental, or human losses,” discussed Bankoff.  They are phenomena caused by nature that have negative effects and may cause harm or even cost the lives of people.

In analyzing a natural disaster, one may also ponder on the maxim that “disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability.” B. Wisner, P. Blaikie, T. Cannon, and I. Davis explained in their book At Risk – Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disaster (2004) that “natural disasters will never result in areas without vulnerability.”

Here are some natural hazards that eventually cost natural disasters.

An avalanche occurs if snow from the mountain top, cliff, or slope goes down at a speed of more than 160 km/h. This can be very destructive, both in lives and properties, especially if an avalanche occurs to places with many people. Slopes in 30° are in danger of avalanche, especially when deep snow flows speedily where chances to coher are very limited.

There are a lot of factors that cause an avalanche. The most common is noise or sudden vibration. One of the most famous avalanches in history is the Galtür Avalanche in  Austria on Feb. 23, 1999. The said disaster killed 35 people, destroyed houses, and buried victims under tons of snow. In order to prevent avalanches, some countries designate snow patrols that detonate explosives in strategic points so smaller, less destructive flows can occur.

Earthquake is a sudden shaking of the ground caused by the movement of the tectonic plates which either slide to one another or bump at each other. Though earthquakes today seem to be very disastrous, in reality, an earthquake alone barely kills humans or destroys the wildlife. It is the event that comes after the earthquake like building collapse, tsunamis, landslides, volcano eruptions, or fire that kills people.

Geologist Haraldur Sigurdsson, professor of Volcanology at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, said in an interview to Encarta that the deadliest earthquake in the world occurred in Huahsien, China in 1556 which killed 830,000 people. Another earthquake, in Tangshan, China, ranked second when it killed 240,000 in 1976.

“Figures of this type become even more tragic when we realize that the losses of life and property associated with earthquake disasters are almost entirely due to the failure of human-made structures,” he said, citing that some cities are situated on mud covered by soil which only amplified the impact of the earthquake.

Indeed, results of earthquake have produced destruction and agony to a lot of people (see the separate article about earthquake).

A landslide is the sudden descent of soil or rocks down from a mountain or slope. Landslides  are often attributed to illegal logging, which causes mountains to be  cropped,  making it easier for the soil to be carried away down the mountain when heavy rain falls or when strong wind  blows.

Volcanic eruption is another disaster that poses a threat to humans, properties, and agriculture. It is caused by the explosion of a volcano and the fall of rocks and pumice that follows afterward. Other destructive effects of volcanic eruptions are mobility of explosive and hot materials, falling ashes, lava and volcanic debris. Volcanic eruptions even in deserted areas can be dangerous since ashes can be thrown to the atmosphere. These volcanic ashes can pose hazard to airplanes.

Floods are caused when the soil fails to absorb the water that comes from rain or snow. According to Encarta Encyclopedia, (2003), “water runs off the land in quantities that cannot be carried in stream channels or retained in natural ponds and constructed reservoirs,” causes flood.

Floods do not only cause damage to properties, it also hampers the economy of a certain place and puts menace to the lives of humans and animals. Strong currents of flood can cause soil erosion or sediment deposition that causes the surface of lakes and rivers to rise.

The Great Flood in China in 1931 is probably the greatest recorded flood in history. It resulted after the Huang He (Yellow River) overflowed, killing between 800,000 and 4 million people.

According to Wikipedia.com (2007), limnic eruption takes place when carbon dioxide located deep within a lake erupts. This eruption can suffocate the wildlife, livestock, and humans that live around the lake, causing them to die. Limnic eruption may also cause a tsunami within a lake as the rise of carbon dioxide causes the water to move. According to scientists, limnic eruption may be caused by landslides, volcanic activity, or explosions.

The limnic eruptions in Lake Monoun in 1984 and in Lake Nyos in 1986 were the two well recorded limnic eruptions in history. The former killed 10,000 people while the latter, though bigger, killed as much as 1, 800 people.

A tsunami is a Japanese word for harbor wave. It is a term used to describe an undersea earthquake or undersea landslide which often takes place along the Ring of Fire, 32, 500 km long, which circles the Pacific Ocean. Usually, a tsunami has a wavelength of up to 200 km and travels to up to 800 km/h.

Tsunamis are wrongly called as tidal waves because some think that tsunamis are caused by gravitational forces.

No one can detect a tsunami unless it reaches the shallow part of the water, when the traveling wave becomes larger.

Typhoons, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones are the varying names for a certain phenomenon: an area of low atmospheric pressure surrounded by strong winds that forms on the ocean.

The effects of typhoons include flood, destruction of properties, and if severe, it may cost the lives of many. Typhoons can also cause economic stagnation to a locality, black outs, and even hunger.

A wildfire is an uncontrollable burning of a wide wildland area. The main causes of a wildfire may be lighting, extreme heat, human negligence, and arson. Wildfires can be a threat to both the people and the wild life. If a wild fire worsens, it may lead to firestorm. A firestorm  creates its own wind and weather and can even ruin a town, like what happened in 1962 in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

An epidemic is the spread of infectious diseases that usually affects the mass. An epidemic becomes a pandemic when it affects the entire world. An epidemic may be short-lived or may last for years. It is  caused by the rising number of disease-causing organisms transmitted in food and drinks, physical contact, or exchange of semen, saliva, or blood. Animals, such as rats, rodents  and insects, called as vectors, also carry bacteria and viruses that cause an epidemic.

There has been a lot of instances where epidemics have claimed the lives of many. These include the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death which ravaged Europe from 1347-1351 and killed one-fourth of the continent’s population. But it was the Spanish Flu, or the Influenza of 1918-19 that became the worst epidemic in the history. According to the Dec. 22, 2005 issue of Awake Magazine, “victims die en masse, for there was no effective treatment or cure. Millions of healthy young people were suddenly cut down during their most productive time of life” and that “majority of those who died were between 20 and 40 years old.”

Other than the two mentioned, there are also epidemics of lesser degrees that scathe the lives of humans everywhere.

Famine came from the Latin word fames meaning hunger. It is the extreme shortage of food that affects a large area where victims are usually children and old people. Famine is caused by two aspects: natural and human. Natural causes include flood, drought, pestilence, and plant disease. The human causes include: warfare, crop destruction, sieges, and corruption. Famine may also root from extreme poverty, unequal distribution of food, or the sharp rise of population that the food supply could no longer sustain the need of the people, thereby causing malnutrition and death, especially to the infants, children, and the aged.

Solar flare takes place when the sun  abruptly discharges solar radiation that’s above the normal. Studies of the sun’s corona have revealed striking, violent solar flares and coronal mass injection (CMEs). These solar flares eject power from the magnetic holes in the corona. This heats the gases of the corona where particles and radiation are sent to the solar system. According to Randolph Levin and Kenneth Lang (2002), “solar flares release energy equivalent to that of billions of hydrogen bombs in a few short minutes.”

Manmade hazards and disasters are occurrences caused by man. Among them are:

Crime is a wrongful conduct where law has been violated. A person who performs a crime may be punished or sanctioned by the state. They are also considered dangerous to society.

Arson is the intentional and malicious burning of an infrastructure, either private or public, houses, or properties. Before, arson was limited to burning of buildings. Today, burning of bridges, vehicles, and other private or public property is already considered arson.

Civil unrest, also called as civil disorder, is a form of public disturbance that causes chaos and disaster to the public. Riot, a form of civil unrest, is a disturbance of public peace after people have illegally assembled. Civil unrests and riots may lead to casualties and destruction of public properties.

Terrorism may either be the creation and dispersion of fear among the civilians by a group of people who want to make change in the society or the use of violence to create political, social, economic, and religious upheaval. The second definition may target anyone, or even the mass, so as to call the attention of the government to act upon certain changes. The most famous act of terrorism was the 9/11 Attack after the Taliban movement high jacked two airplanes that hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Here in the Philippines, the Rizal Day Bombing in Manila, allegedly claimed to have been master minded by the Abu Sayyaf group, caused both public furor and fear in the said terrorist group.

Warfare takes place when two opposing countries or groups take arms against one another. Warfare usually arises when these two groups fail to settle an issue diplomatically. There are a lot of forms of warfare. This includes civil war, insurrection or rebellion, coup d e’tat, guerilla warfare, and even terrorism. Aside from the two world wars, other warfare have dotted the map of the world throughout her history. In the Philippines, warfare is prevalent among the government forces and the Communist rebels, as well as with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups, and the Muslim separatist movements (MILF and MNLF).

Power outage is the interruption of power supply in a certain place. Power outage may take place for a  short period of time or  even a longer pace. Power outage is usually prevalent during incidences of earthquakes or typhoons. Short-term power outage is normal, and may take place for an hour or two. On the other hand, long-term power outage may hamper personal, medical and emergency, and business activities. The power outage during the Aquino and Ramos Administrations had hampered the economy of the Philippines, while the power outage in New York in 1977 had cause civil disturbance.

Radiation contamination are effects of the use of nuclear weapons, releasing airborne radioactive particles, or nuclear fallout, in the surrounding. Radioactive fallout causes death and long-term effects that pose hazard  even to the next generation. One example of radiation contamination occurred after the United States  dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It contaminated the food and water supplies, even putting the lives of half of the cities’ population into danger.

The same is also true when the reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered meltdown in 1986. Today, Chernobyl is an  ghost town; no one lives there for fear of nuclear fall out.

Of all the man-made hazards and disasters, the weapon of mass destruction is the most nouveau. The weapons of mass destruction are also called as the CBRNs (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear). According to Wikipedia (2007), it is a “nonconventional terror threat” that when used may kill a lot of people. The Halabja gas poisoning, reputedly initiated by Saddam Hussein, is one example of the use of weapon of mass destruction.

These disasters and tragedies are menace to the human being that weakens their morale. Indeed, when these tragedies strike, fear and despair reign in the heart of people. Indeed, this  is the time that hope is needed to keep fear at bay  that people may think that there is still a future that’s stored for them.

When do we feel the greatest need for hope? Is it when trials come? Or is it when our loved ones are taken by death? But what is hope that even amidst tragedies, some continue to remain standing?

Hope, known in the Greek mythology as Elpis, is synonymous with the story of Pandora and her mythical box. When Pandora opened the box, she let all the evil get out and roam the world, except for hope. The Greeks considered hope to be as dangerous as the other evils, but they do know that without hope.  The world would be filled with despair. The Greek mythology also noted that hope was described as a  physically frail spirit yet stronger than all the evils that had escaped the box.

The American Heritage Dictionary (2008) described hope as “a belief in positive outcome to events and circumstances in one’s life.”  However, hope also “implies a certain amount of despair, wanting, wishing, suffering, or perseverance.” To some, hope only prolongs the desperation that a person feels.  To others, hope is a form of positive thinking, a way of fighting pessimism.

In the field of medicine, experts agree that hope and optimism have positive effects in the life of a person’s health. According to Dr. Gifford Jones, a medical journalist, “Hope is a powerful therapy,” and that optimism, Awake discussed, benefits patients due to their positive outlook. Such is the power of hope.

The Christian Bible’s concept of hope is broader, compared to the way psychologists and doctors explain it. According tothe original texts used in the Bible, hope means to “wait eagerly and to expect for good to arrive.” Awake magazine explained that hope is composed of two elements. “It involves the desire for something good as well as believing that good will come.”

According to Wikipedia (2007), hope can also serve as passive wishing and  may be “active as a plan or idea, often against popular belief, with persistent, personal action to execute the plan or to prove an idea.”  Example is a person who never gave up his hope of getting out from poverty. Despite all the adversities that came along his way, he strove to study hard at one hand and worked at the other just to make ends meet. In conclusion, he accomplished what he aimed for because of his strong desire to fulfill what he had hoped for. On the contrary, consider another person who merely wished to get out from poverty but never did anything and in the end, he lost all the hope of becoming rich.

Having hope amidst the catastrophes is such a difficult thing to do. But there is no other way that a person deeply buried in disparity can be saved but to hope for salvation to come. Thus, this flicker of hope that keeps on burning within his heart serves as a motivation to move forward and help himself stand up despite the scathing adversities that continue to stop him from moving on.

Faith deeply plays a big part in instilling hope to the heart of the people.  Again, the Holy  Scriptures told that to have hope is to have faith; that faith and hope are intertwined and that to have hope in the heart is the most potent way of healing one’s self despite the most hurtful trials in life.

Thus, it is wise to say that having faith to God is a sure source of hope. Though sometimes our faith is put to test and hope seems to waver never stop from seeking help from God and pray that He may rescue you and offer you comfort despite the scorching pain that you feel inside, just what Proverbs 3: 5-6 said, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not in your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will lead you to a straight path.”

In this world full of distress, we must act for our own survival. If hope is the only thing that keeps us alive, then, we must keep a strong hold of it. Amidst disaster, let hope shine within the deepest parts of your wounded soul. No matter how hard it is we must do everything for our own good. It is better to try than not doing at all, because losing hope means giving up life. There are just too many things that we must be hopeful for. With God on our side, we can be assured of His promises to us. This is an enough reason to be optimistic about the future. Yes, a wonderful future awaits us all and you must be a part of it.

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