Humans are the most developed of all the living beings. They think and learn. It is in human nature to minimize the errors in anything and everything as much as possible and to try to reach as near to perfection as can be. However, humans are creatures of mistakes. No matter how small or how large, every individual makes many mistakes in their lives on personal, social, environmental, educational, professional or other levels.
In this world, there is a set process and procedure for everything and for things to remain in a balance and keep functioning and working properly and appropriately, it is important that these processes and procedures keep going on in the normal usual way. When there is a disruption in these processes and procedures, disasters occur. These disasters may be on personal level, national level or global level. They may be social, political, economic, natural or of some other type. Technically, a disaster is any event, whether natural or caused by humans, that has a negative impact on the society or the world.
The word “disaster” is derived from two Greek words “dis” meaning “bad” and “astro” meaning stars. It means that when the stars are in a bad state or are aligned in a wrong manner, bad things will happen. In a disaster, the victims suffer. People die or huge losses are incurred or both take place. When classified under broad categories, disasters can be divided in two types; natural disasters and disasters caused by humans. A natural disaster is any event that occurs naturally and humans have a very little or absolutely no control over it.
Some examples include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, typhoons, cyclones, tornados, natural fires, etc. however, human vulnerability plays a great part for a natural hazard to turn into a natural disaster, that is, a natural hazard like an earthquake, fire, tsunami etc will not be considered a “disaster” if it occurs in such an area that is not occupied by humans or no human is affected by it or both. The greater the impact of the hazard on the human environment or the humans themselves, the greater is the disaster.
In such a calamity, a good emergency management system (also known as a disaster management system) can help save lives and reduce the losses incurred, while a weak or unplanned emergency management system or the lack of one can result in huge financial, economic, social and human losses. It has however been observed that the developed nations tend to have considerably better emergency management systems and therefore incur less losses be it on the financial and economic front or the social and human front.
Researches show that about 90 to 95 percent of the losses incurred due to these natural disasters every year are incurred by the underdeveloped or the developing nations especially the South East Asian countries. The second type of disasters is the disaster caused by humans. A human-made disaster is any disaster that is caused by the mistake or misunderstanding of processes by humans. The causes may be human negligence or ignorance, a mechanical failure or any other human action. Human made disasters are further divided into two types; technological disasters and sociological disasters.
Technological disasters are all those disasters that are caused by a mechanical, engineering or technical failure and include disasters like a transportation disaster (like a plane crash) or a collapse of a building or bridge (due to engineering or technical faults etc) etc that causes loss of lives or resources or both. Sociological disasters are all those disasters that are backed by a powerful human motive (be it criminal acts, revenge, religious reasons, terrorism, wars etc. ).
In recent times, terrorism and wars are the types of such disasters that are most prevalent and claim most of the lives of people dying these days. The powerful are trying to suppress and oppress the weak and in order to take over them and their resources, attack on them (a good example of that would be the on-going America-Iraq war), while on the other hand, the suppressed and oppressed try to defend themselves and raise their voice, which results in riots and similar incidences. Another type of the disasters can be a combination of both human-made and natural disasters.
That would include any disasters that have both the human reasons as well as the natural hazards behind them. An example of such a disaster would be an aircraft crash due to sudden turbulence in weather. The natural factor here would be the bad weather while the human error would be the lack of a proper contingency plan. When defined broadly, a disaster is any event or occurrence that has a negative impact on at least one human being. Keeping this definition in mind, a disaster can be on many levels.
The lowest level of a disaster would be on a personal level. This may include events like a divorce, loss or death of someone very close and beloved like parents or spouse, heavy losses in business etc that can have immense effects on an individual’s life, and in some cases, can even change the entire course or outlook of one’s life, and can revolutionize that individual’s mentality and thinking. A higher level would be on the organizational basis which might include failure of business projects or liquidation or bankruptcy etc. hen there might be some other levels like national, regional and global as well. According to Wolf Dombrowski, “Disasters do not cause effects.
The effects are what we call a Disaster. ” What he means to say is that it is not the disaster in itself in totality that is harmful for us; the humans, it is not just the very incident that has a negative impact on our lives and it is not just a particular event that causes a severe blow to the masses. It is actually a whole series of after effects of any particular event that decide if that event is a disaster or not.
This can easily be understood by the fact that if a hazard (a natural disaster in this example, like an earthquake) hits an uninhabited area, it will not be considered a disaster; the reason being that it did not have any “effect” on any human or human environment. On the other hand, had the same earthquake hit a largely populated urban area, it would have been the source of massive destruction and would have claimed several human lives. In addition to this, it would have caused huge financial and economic losses as well.
All these negative impacts are the “effects” of the earthquake, which made it a disaster or else, it would have been just an earthquake in a distant uninhabited piece of land. Consider another example of the personal level of damage. What is wrong with a divorce? A divorce is nothing but a separation between spouses who no longer wish to live with one another. This should have been a good thing with positive impacts since the people who do not want to stay with each other can now live the way they want.
However, this is not the case. Not at least most of the times. The reason being that a divorce always, or most of the times, has many negative “effects” on the separated spouses, their children and other closely related individuals like parents of the two spouses, and thus the whole family suffers. Therefore, a divorce was not bad in its essence and could not have been classified as a disaster on a personal level, but, due to its “effects” it turned into a disaster.
The examples described above and many other examples make it pretty clear that the disaster and its effects are very closely linked and there is such a thin boundary between then that it is almost impossible to clearly differentiate between them. The disaster is due to its effects and the effects are due to the disaster. So it shows that there is no clear distinction between a disaster and its effects and that they are nothing but two faces of the same coin and it is the effects that we actually call a disaster.
One thing that with the disasters be it natural or human, which renders the humans helpless in this regard, is the very low predictability of these disasters. Moreover, the disasters are not under much of human control, even if they are human made disasters. Due to this fact, the losses incurred are greater and more lives are wasted. The availability and functionality of a proper emergency management system can, however, help minimize the damage, if not eliminate it. When talking about emergency management, which is also called disaster management, there is a step to step process that is involved.
There are four phases to establish an emergency management system, being, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Discussing briefly, mitigation is the long-term planning to prevent a hazard from turning into a disaster or to reduce the impact on the masses as much as possible. The elimination or reduction of potential risks is also included in mitigation. Mitigation may either be structural (technological solutions etc) or non-structural (like insurance etc). Contingency planning is a major part of the mitigation phase of emergency management.
The second phase, preparedness, deals with the strategies to prepare the masses in case of a hazardous situation to minimize the disaster. It includes strategies like first-aid training and inventory management and stock piling, etc. Casualty prediction (prediction of deaths that should be expected from the catastrophe) is another important aspect of preparedness phase. Coming to response, the third phase of emergency management, this phase explains how one should respond or react to the calamity on hand in the first place.
It requires emergency services, NGOs and other voluntary organizations, rescue teams and other relevant departments to have a complete plan of how to respond to a particular disaster, but the volunteers should be really committed to help in times of disasters or else they can prove to be a hindrance instead of help. The last phase of disaster management (or emergency management) is the recovery phase that actually takes place after the disaster when the effects have spread and its time to try bringing things back to normal as soon as possible.
While response phase helps to deal with the impacts of the disaster during the disaster, the recovery phase deals with facing the aftermath and restoring the affected area or people to the previous state (that is the state before the disaster). It includes efforts like rebuilding of the destroyed property and estate, reemployment of the affected masses and the rehabilitation of those who are psychologically struck by the incident, etc. The International Organizations that respond in emergency situations include United Nations, World Bank, Red Cross, Red Crescent, International Association of Emergency Managers, etc.
Let us now take some examples and discuss the notion “Disasters do not cause effects. The effects are what we call a Disaster” further, in the light of those devastating events. The events that the discussion would be focused on would be: a) Indian Ocean Tsunami – 2004 b) The 9/11 incident of The World Trade Centers – 2001 South East Asia, especially the coastal areas, is the part of the world which is gifted by nature’s great bounties.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists, especially from Australian and European nations, travel to this region every year to spend their vacations in the beautiful days and the peaceful nights of these God-gifted lands and these tourist activities contribute a major chunk to the revenue generated by these underdeveloped or developing countries, annually. December 26, 2004 was a nice sunny day of the beautiful winters of this South East Asian region. The sea shores were crowded with both, he locals and the tourists and everyone was enjoying the amazing winter off the coast when suddenly, there appeared a wall of water right at the shore.
Within seconds, the huge wall-like wave of water crashed on the shore engulfing numerous people who were peacefully having fun in the sun not very long ago. The fun and peaceful environment turned into a sight of immense chaos and destruction and the gigantic waves did not take longer than a few minutes to travel up to kilometers inside the cities. A tsunami had hit the shores of the Indian Ocean. Let us first shed some light on what a Tsunami actually is. The word tsunami is derived from two Japanese words; “tsu” meaning “harbor” and “nami” meaning “waves”.
A Tsunami can be described as an immediate immense after effect of an earthquake or mass movements in the land under the ocean. When an earthquake or mass movements occur in the ocean bed, due to any reason (being a volcanic eruption, underwater explosions, landslides or underwater earthquakes themselves), they generate huge amounts of energy that causes the water waves to move at large mean and extreme positions and thus create gigantic waves that appear to be walls of water when the strike the shore before the crash down on land and engulf everything that there is.
The height or the amplitude of the waves of a Tsunami off the shore is much smaller than what it suddenly becomes the instant it strikes the shore. This is because while the water under the surface of the ocean is full of energy emitted by the earthquake or mass movements in the ocean bed and continues to undergo very fast movements, the water of the surface is comparatively very calm. The moment the water reaches the shore, these two layers merge and give rise to the gigantic waves of water capable of engulfing the whole area in a matter of mere minutes and thus create the walls of water, a characteristic the Tsunamis are famous for.
In the Tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean in 2004, the cause was determined to be an earthquake, with its epicenter (point of generation) off the west coast of the Sumatra Island of Indonesia. That is why Indonesia was the country to suffer from this calamity the most. The magnitude of the earthquake was recorded to be between 9. 1 and 9. 3 by different sources on the Richter scale or a Seismograph. The earthquake was so powerful that it generated a series of tsunami waves that hit various shores along the Indian Ocean and created many powerful gigantic waves that caused a lot of destruction.
The Tsunami affected about eleven countries and created waves up to a hundred feet in height. The earthquake was of the second highest magnitude to be recorded on a seismograph, ever, and the tsunami was recorded to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in history claiming lives of more that 350,000 individuals and causing losses of billions of dollars.
The countries most affected include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives, Somalia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Seychelles, etc. n addition to this, many citizens of various Australian and European nations lost their lives while spending their vacations on the shores where the disaster struck. The disaster did not end here. The actual problems started after the major outbreak when the rescue mission started. Many were saved yet many lost their lives. Many were left missing who would have died eventually hoping and praying, waiting for a rescue team to come and save them.
The areas where the calamity hit were totally destroyed and needed to be rebuilt. As the days passed, the temperature dropped further. This caused more casualties due to the chilling effect of winters. There was an outburst of many epidemics and other diseases while the health resources were minimal and the hygiene conditions were adverse. Food, clothing, shelter, water, medicines and other health supplies and other basic necessities of life were needed immediately in huge quantities.
Many were injured and needed medical facilities to be treated quickly in order to prevent more casualties while those who remained safe were now reaching adverse conditions due to lack of resources. These and many other immediate after effects needed to be looked after as early as possible to prevent further losses. This clearly shows that the disaster was not “just” the Tsunami waves but the effects that it left on the areas that it hit, were equally disastrous.
Another event that can easily be deemed disastrous is the 9/11 incident that took place in 2001. It was a peaceful morning, a regular American day in New York. Many people had already reached their workplaces while others were in a hurry to reach theirs when a plane smashed straight into one of the two tallest towers of the World Trade Center, New York. Not much time had passed when another plane crashed in the second tower. Fire broke out in the two towers and a state of emergency was created.
In the mean while, an attack on the Pentagon took place as well. It was a series of attacks by Al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization) on America in which they used passenger airplanes as their weapons. The whole world’s attention was diverted towards America, the Super Power in the world, since no body could imagine something like this happening there. No matter what the motives and the caused were, thousands of innocent people lost their lives and it took months for even a country like America to overcome the immediate devastating effects of this incident.
However, this incident, in the long run, changed the complete outlook of the world. America started a war against terrorism which resulted in attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, etc, some of which are still going on. Various treaties and agreements took place between various nations and many alliances were formed. Many Strategies were formulated and the concept of Emergency Management, Crisis Management and other similar concepts changed altogether, which is very evident from the comparison of the books published before and after the disaster.
All in all, this incident had a huge impact on almost the entire world and it’s after effects were, and still are, actually greater and more devastating than what it was that day. This example too, clearly shows that the disaster was not just what happened that particular day, but also what happened after it and what is still happening, especially in the regions that were and/or are the subject of the war against terrorism. Thus the statement of Wolf Dombrowski, that “Disasters do not cause effects. The effects are what we call a Disaster” holds true