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Thursday, 6 January, 2005

Avoiding a Catastrophe Of Human Error

"We live on a planet of extremes and cataclysm," says William Hooke, director of the American Meteorological Society's policy program, in a Washington Post editorial. "A year to the day before the Dec. 26 tsunami, whose death toll has surpassed 150,000, the Bam earthquake in Iran killed 46,000 people, injured 20,000 and left 60,000 homeless. In India the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 resulted in more than 20,000 deaths and 167,000 injuries. In 1998 Central America lost 10,000 lives to Hurricane Mitch. The 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China killed 250,000."

"Can we blunt these catastrophes?," he asks, "What measures can and should we take to reduce loss of life and suffering, mitigate economic disruption and protect the environment and ecosystems in the face of extreme events?"

Hooke goes on to cite five broad-based actions that should be taken by the world at large:

  • Monitor. "Nations of the world need to address the challenge of monitoring the entire range of natural hazards in a balanced, globally coordinated way."

  • Warn. "When information on an impending hazard is available to only a few government officials, it is virtually useless. The warning must be in the hands of the public -- those of us in harm's way. For many events, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, the warning time is too short to rely on the handoff of information between intermediaries. Nations must pay more attention to technical means for disseminating warnings directly to those affected."

  • Prepare the Public. "Those in Sumatra, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and elsewhere simply did not know how to interpret the meaning of the scene before them -- an ocean suddenly receding far from the coast, with fish flopping around on sediment that moments before had been underwater. Such public awareness by itself, with or without government warnings, could have triggered an immediate and massive exodus to higher ground.... ere at home, K-12 education offers a powerful tool for building public awareness and for providing additional benefits. We can teach children (society's most vulnerable population) about the hazards they face. As they enter adulthood, they will bring that awareness with them."

  • Adopt Less Risky Behavior. "Many of the dazed and injured in Asia have no livelihood to return to, no prospect of getting their lives back on track. The tragedy will not just persist for years -- it will grow. To protect against the property loss and economic disruption of disasters, we must adopt more prudent land-use policies, especially in coastal regions and other hazardous zones. We must strengthen building codes and their enforcement."

  • Focus on Social Equity. "Statistically, those hit the hardest are the ones who were struggling to begin with: the poor, the elderly, the sick, women and children, ethnic minorities. Do we want to protect ourselves (and others) from natural hazards? Then let's work together to take care of today's basic needs -- food, clothing, and shelter -- so there's a surplus to put toward greater safety over the long haul."

Hooke concludes, "Tackle those concerns and we'll defuse a lot of potential armed conflict. The investment amounts to pennies on the dollar; the unquantifiable social benefits are immense." -ac
2 Comments Post a Comment
Anonymous Anonymous said :

This is a test

Thu Jan 06, 12:55:00 AM IST  
Anonymous Anonymous said :

I do not agree this is not a test, this is a disaster. If you believe that your crazy, many people have died you have no right to speak for those who are dead...

Thu Jan 06, 03:57:00 AM IST