Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Weather:  Be Prepared

The Chief Minister of Indis's Odisha Naveen Patnaik receives the citation recognising Odisha’s effective cyclone preparedness from Ms Wahlström. (Credit: www.unisdr.org) Click to enlarge.
In a disaster, preparedness is everything.  Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people – another 1,800 are still unaccounted for – and blasted more than a million homes.  Cyclone Phailin, an almost equally ferocious windstorm, hit the coast of India at Odisha in October and took only 21 lives.  The devastation was real but, in an exercise that now looks like a model of forethought and good government, almost a million people were evacuated in time.  The story of the two tropical windstorms is a practical illustration of the argument that there is no such thing as a "natural" disaster: the hazards are real, but the loss of life and property follows because people were not warned, or were warned but took no action, or were housed in dangerous structures.

Another reason for taking seriously the damage of relatively small-scale sporadic flooding and wind damage:  it exacts an enduring economic cost.  The UN office for disaster risk reduction recently counted up the toll of small disasters.  These are events in which more than 10 people die, that affect more than 1,000 people, or are followed by a national request for international assistance.  They can be slow, almost imperceptible events, such as droughts that turn into famine, or a sudden landslip on a hillside crowded with makeshift homes.

The Weather:  Be Prepared

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