Thursday, November 14, 2013

Disaster Fatigue

Disaster fatigue is a concept as ugly as the mega-scale human tragedies that cause it.  It's not a difficult idea to grasp. Mega-scale hurricanes, typhoons, floods, droughts, and wildfire are becoming more deadly and  more common.

A few days ago, a tropical storm known as Haiyan struck the Philippines.  It was by some accounts the most powerful storm in recorded history.  Sustained winds of 195 mph, gusting to nearly 250 mph; a storm surge of 20 feet.  The death toll is estimated at 10,000 at this point and likely to go much higher.

You watch the TV news reports and your heart goes out to the masses of people caught up in the suffering.  Huge numbers of people still have no food, no potable water, and little or no medical care.  The world is trying to help. The U.S. Navy and other relief agencies are there providing as much aid as they can, but the scale of the devastation is overwhelming. 

The sobering reality about such weather events is that they are becoming more common, far more costly, and more consequential and lasting in their impact. 

We have mostly ourselves to blame.  Storms like Haiyan become monsters in scale in large part because of the physics of climate change. Warmer ocean surface temperatures breed more powerful weather systems.  In the Philippines, the impact is exacerbated by the crowded conditions in mostly poor coastal communities.   The human population in the Philippines is nearly 100 million, increasing at  nearly 2% annually.  There is no safety net in poor countries like the Philippines.

In 2010, an earthquake devastated Haiti.  The world's initial response was intense, but now, three years later, much of the rubble remains and the economy is moribund. Haiti continues to be defined by dysfunction and human suffering.   Add now, the Philippines to a growing list of places that cannot take care of its people.

In the U.S., we are still dealing with the consequences of Hurricane Sandy on the Northeastern seaboard, and Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the deep South.

If trends continue, what looms ominously is the possibility that our compassion and our support when devastating weather events strike will be increasingly limited by the overwhelming demand.   To a significant  extent, disaster fatigue is already an unsettling reality.   At the very least, we should demand that our elected representatives in government wake up and take action to moderate climate change.  That is surely an imperative part of any plan to deal with disaster fatigue.

Here is a link to a video that makes the connection between human induced climate change and colossal disasters like Typhoon Haiyan...

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