Written by The Might Niush! for the spring issue of >BMM
FUKUSHIMA, MON AMOUR: As we deal with more than a decades’ worth of disaster fatigue, both real and man-made, it begs the question: are we headed toward a dystopic world? Lately, I’ve been feeling totally exhausted. I thought it was just me and my existential angst until I began talking to others. The feeling seems almost universal. This recession has worn us out. The constant bombardment in the news about people actually being bombarded in other parts of the world is overwhelming. There seems to be no reprieve in sight. Add to this troubled cauldron, one natural disaster after another and we have yet another a new term for our millennial malaise: disaster fatigue.
Since 2000 there hasn’t been a single year where one or more parts of the world haven’t had a major natural disaster. Seeing images of the earthquake and tsunami inJapan, it’s hard to fathom that this isn’t some special effect conjured up in aHollywoodstudio. Entire towns and lives were decimated in a matter of minutes: homes caving in like playing cards and vehicles bobbling through the angry water like toys in a bathtub. Wrapping one’s head around such unyielding devastation is almost too much! To complicate matters, these destructive events are often followed by equally destructive man-made disasters, as has been inJapanwith the high-level radiation leaks from its nuclear reactors and teetering on the precipice of a possible meltdown.
Climate change advocates have long warned us of the acceleration of natural disasters on our planet. Sadly this has, by and large, been ignored. They have been dismissed by a slew of political, religious and special interest groups with “megaphonic” media ties to convince the general public otherwise. As per usual, profit, facilitated by the ignorance of the masses, is the root of it. Oil, nuclear, arms and unscrupulous development investors have too much at stake to loose out to floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis. But it’s kind of hard to ignore Mother Nature; even harder in an era of instant communication.
A French based firm, Ubyrisk Consultants, specializing in studying and management of natural disasters, has in fact been data-banking catastrophes throughout the world. According to their recent report: “From 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2010, no fewer than 7,563 natural disasters were recorded in the world, an average of 756 incidents per year. In the long term (30 years), it appears that the decade 2001-2010 is by far the one with the most unfortunate events…The total of 576,474 deaths that were recorded in the past decade were caused mainly by earthquakes…Tsunamis took the second place with 271,775 deaths, followed by hurricanes and tropical storms that killed 229,037 people”. Some researchers argue that there has been no increase in natural disasters per se, so much as our data access to it. They contend that cutting-edge technology helps detect and alert people to potentially disastrous activities such as hurricanes, cyclones and tornadoes. While this may in part be true, what is often ignored are the startling rising numbers of disastrous Earth related activities. Online data provides just a petri-dish sample of devastating events of the last decade: 2001: Gujarat earthquake, India-19,700 deaths, 2002: The Dresden and Glasgow floods-over 170,000 people affected; 2003: European heatwave- 35,000 deaths, Iran earthquake- +30,000 deaths; 2004: Indian Ocean tsunami– up to 235,000 deaths, 1.69 million displaced; 2005: Maharashta floods, India- +5000 deaths, up to 1 million people displaced, US, Hurricane Katrina– 1,836 deaths, 70,000 displaced, Pakistan/Kashmir earthquake-79,000 deaths, 500,000 displaced; 2006: Java earthquake-5,786 deaths, 2008: Burma [Myanmar] Cyclone-146,000 deaths; Sichuan earthquake, China- over 87,000 deaths; 2009: L’Aquila Earthquake Italy- 308 deaths, +65,000 displaced; 2010: Haiti Earthquake- over 300,000 deaths, 3 million displaced/affected, Pakistan floods- 1,781 reported deaths, 20 million affected; 2010-2011: Queensland, Australia floods: (spanning an area the size of France and Germany combined) 35 deaths, 9 missing, 50,000 displaced, 2011: Christchurch earthquake, New Zealand- 172 confirmed deaths, +100,000 affected; Japan earthquake and tsunami- 10,000 currently reported deaths, at least 17,000 missing. This small sample is startling not so much because of the death tolls -other past historic natural disasters boast even higher figures- but the accelerated numbers in which they occur and the environmental beating our planet is taking. As I write this, mid-western and southern parts of the US have been hit by an unprecedented number of tornadoes more than 871 as of late April 2011– with a current death toll of at least 337 people. These tornadoes have been among the worst in the US over the past 20 years.
The number of deaths, injuries and displaced people, not to mention economic and structural damage seems vastly disproportionate in developing countries. There are issues of weak infrastructure, poor organization, substandard management and rampant corruption among leaders to contend with. The general lack of aid from international communities certainly hinder at improving those odds. It makes a deadly situation even more devastating. And while some research may indeed show greater natural disasters occurring in developing countries, they are by no means exclusive to those areas.
What research does show is that natural disasters are compounded by human induced activities. Wildfires, for example, generally considered a naturally occurring event, have increased exponentially over the past 20 years not just due to bad droughts and high temperatures, but because the vast majority of these fires have been linked by individuals not extinguishing cigarettes, barbeques or camp fires.
Hurricane, cyclone, flood and tsunami evacuation procedures have often been too slow and poorly executed. In other words, the casualty and damages sustained could have been minimized had appropriate infrastructures (i.e. roads, digs, damns, river banks, bridges) been maintained and upgraded regularly, and had emergency supplies and relief management been effectively delegated.
While determining its physical devastation is an imperfect science, informing and evacuating people ahead of time (as most recent events would indicate) is indeed possible. However, preventative measures are not just lacking in developing nations, many developed nations still prove to be ill-prepared.
The hardest natural disaster to foresee is earthquakes. While seismic activity has affected almost all parts of the world, an almost disproportionate number of them seem to be concentrated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The number of earthquakes with a magnitude over 4.0 to have struck Japan since March 11th has reached 1000. Like many other island and coastal nations in this region,Japan also endured a tsunami with waves reaching over 10 meters high. The country’s coup de grace however lay in something much more sinister: the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. On the heels Mother Nature’s sucker-punch, it’s this manmade one which gives the rest of the world the jitters.
Somewhere in our amnesia prone collective memory we recall the devastation of Chernobyl. (It’s only just been a year since the BP Oil Spill but its devastating effects in the Gulf are still very evident). Somewhere, we recallOppenheimer’s deadly creation, the horrible images of Nagasaki, Hiroshimaand the countless, harrowing photos of its victims.Japan, after all, has spent the past 65 years retelling those tragic events through animation and film: a world of monsters, apocalyptic wars and of super technological yet utterly dystopic futures. The hero, ironically, is still humanoid, or rather, what’s left of our humanity. But by all accounts it seems those fable warnings of man-induced cataclysms have gone unheeded. With radiation alarm bells sounding-off as loudly as those who try to dismiss it and our concerns about the long-term effects reaching our own shores amplified, somewhere an old black and white French film with a haunting title about the devastation of the past comes to mind. In a decade’s worth of disaster fatigue, both natural and man-made, the exhaustion on our psyche is all too evident. What more can be done to get us out of our stupor, our apathy and our sense of impotence? Has not all this been enough,Fukushima, mon amour?