By Gautam s Kumar:
Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone Nargis, and now Typhoon Haiyan. All of these extreme weather events are ranked as major ‘natural’ disasters and have each claimed the lives of thousands (Cyclone Nargis was solely responsible for more than 1 lakh fatalities). Typhoon Haiyan ( also referred to as Typhoon Yolanda) is the latest entry into this not not so prestigious list and is the newest wake up call for mankind. But just how ‘natural‘ were these calamities? Could they have been avoided? Has mankind learned anything from all of this?
Typhoon Haiyan wrecked havoc in the country of Philippines on November 8, causing close to 3,700 fatalities and $216 million worth of property damage (Source – National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) of Philippines). The United Nations estimates that close to a staggering 11.8 million people were affected by the calamity. The typhoon can thus be described as nothing short of a massive catastrophe. What this has sparked off, is a global debate on climate change that has now become more intense than ever before. With three major climate related disasters since 2000, it has become increasingly difficult for the skeptics to keep arguing that we need not worry. For years there have been skeptics claiming that the climate change is attributed purely to the sun, or that water vapour is more of a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. And although climate change scientists have consistently proved them wrong with facts and figures, it has taken the lives of millions for all of us to even begin considering taking any action.
The recent UN Climate Conference in Warsaw saw Yeb SaÃ±o, the lead negotiator of the Philippines delegation declare that he was commencing a voluntary fast during the conference until the world leaders agree to finally give the issue of climate change the attention it has been begging for, for such a long time. Many at the climate conference in Warsaw and around the world see a link between global warming and the devastating typhoon in the Philippines and share the same views as Yeb SaÃ±o, that it is high time we give the issue of climate change and global warming maximum priority. Even though there are studies that point to non human made causes, there has been a global consensus that the extremity and frequency of these weather related disasters has increased due to the change in the Earth’s climate.
There is also a whole other aspect that is being overshadowed by the debate on climate change. Lack of awareness and poor planning has been a major contributor to the casualties. The way in which houses and settlements are built also plays a decisive role in determining how many people will be hurt in case of a calamity. A major example of this is Cyclone Nargis, that hit Burma in 2008 and claimed more than 1,00,000 lives even though it was two categories below Haiyan on the hurricane scale. In countries like the US, proper construction and planning has resulted in a steady decrease in hurricane related deaths despite significant rises in population densities and storm frequencies. In March, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its fifth and newest assessment report on the state of climate change. In the second part of a draft of the report, the organization stresses the importance of constructing more robust buildings that can better withstand storms.
What this means is that sadly, a richer country would mean a safer country. It puts countries like ours where the population is skyrocketing and the economy is tumbling, in a very difficult position. Not only are our residential areas becoming more crowded, many builders and developers are doing all that they can to maximize their profits by blatantly ignoring safety rules and regulations while constructing buildings. I have personally observed numerous apartments and complexes built way closer to the beach than regulations permit. Three storey buildings are easily being converted to four or even five storey ones to accommodate the increasing population. This, thus becomes a case of safety being compromised for the sake of productivity. And what is more disheartening is the fact that it is this very same productivity that also contributes to the nation’s economy.
Awareness is the key word here. For the common man like you and me, awareness of the fact that we are all contributing to the death of millions by being wasteful with our resources. Awareness of the fact that even a single fan or tube light can make a difference. We have all heard (and many of us brushed aside) advice on minimizing the use of motor vehicles, getting fuel emissions checked and conserving water and electricity. It is high time that we heed all the advice and actually start being more responsible global citizens. For the architects, contractors, builders and developers, awareness of the fact that they may be endangering countless lives in their quest for more prosperous ones. Awareness of the fact that weather events are only going to be get worse and that existing regulations need to be revamped so that we are prepared for the worst. Man has been blessed with the ability to learn from his mistakes and it is high time that all of us learn, and work together for a safer tomorrow.