We are not new to disasters. Wherever you are in the world, you experience your fair share of calamities now and then. For instance, America is riddled with problems like tornado, earthquake, and hurricanes among others. Meanwhile, if there is a continent in the world that experiences almost all types of disasters, then without a doubt it has to be Asia. From earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes to flooding, the lives of Asians are always at risk and their tenacity is always put to the test whenever these disasters strike.
For starters, the “Ring of Fire” is found in Asia. This area in the Pacific Ocean experiences the most number of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes each year. So now you know why Japan is always hit the most by powerful tsunamis. Hurricanes and flooding are likewise common phenomena that ordinary Asians also have to deal with, and environmental issues worsen this. Not only are lives lost but properties are damaged because of these strong waters. Recovery is not always easy but most Asian countries strive to move on with their lives, mostly with foreign help.
Last year 574 disasters were reported around the globe and 108 million people have been affected, according to the latest infographic by the Aid & International Development Forum. The vast majority (92%) of natural disasters are due to global warming. Out of 65.3 million displaced people around the world over 14% are being hosted in Asia and the Pacific.
One of the prevailing effects of climate change is water deprivation and drought, caused by the warming of the earth. According to UNICEF, over two million people in Vietnam seek humanitarian assistance due to El-Nino induced drought. Three quarters those in need are women and children. The Emergency Response Plan has prioritised health, WASH, food and nutrition for just more than one half of the total funding required.
In the Philippines El-Nino caused $19.2 million agricultural damage. In Cambodia, 18 out of 25 provinces face food insecurity with 2.5 million people affected.
Although the people are used to facing these calamities, it still has a devastating impact on their lives especially when the destruction is wide scale and they lose access to basic services.
Last week’s earthquakes in China and Japan‘s triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis) of 11 March 2011 provide harsh reminders that no country is without risk of being hit by natural disasters which wreak havoc without discrimination, wiping out homes, livelihoods, a country’s economic gains, and often many individual lives.
In fact, Asia is the world’s most disaster-prone region, and Asia‘s poor, lacking in resources and more vulnerable and exposed to the elements, have borne the brunt of the region’s cataclysms.
Natural disasters can strike anywhere, reports the Asian Development Bank. However, Asia‘s poor and those living in poor countries with weak governance and economies get hit the most. The poor tend to live in more exposed areas and have vulnerable livelihoods and few resources to fall back on. A major disaster can derail a small, weak economy for decades, and weak governance can impede risk reduction. Looking ahead, as climate change shifts patterns in weather-related disasters, the poor and economically vulnerable will suffer a great proportion of risk.
Poverty also plays a big role as to why the extent of the damage is magnanimous in most Asian countries. The poor tends to live together in makeshift shanties near the road or under bridges where they aren’t exactly protected from the harsh elements.
Led by our worthy guides, we visit the scene of 2013’s Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines in which entire settlements were washed away and some 6,300 people killed; Java where a mud volcano caused by gas drilling plastered 2.5 square miles of fields and villages with 40 feet of wet clay, cost 40,000 people their homes, and caused property losses of more than a billion U.S. dollars; and Kansas, where in 2007, a 205mph tornado flattened an entire town, destroying 1000 buildings. But surprise: just as the book takes us on this bleak journey, it also becomes an electrifying, can’t-put-down detective novel exploring the whats, hows, whens, and whys of each catastrophe. And lest we become too diverted by intrigue, How the World Breaks is a sober investigation of the economics, politics, science, and psychology of a disaster’s origins, progression and aftermath. Taken together, the landscape of climate change becomes a disquieting documentation of the mess we inhabit.
In the last two decades, over 2,200 natural calamities struck Asia alone. Climate change is a major factor as well that worsens the damage caused by these natural calamities. Then, there are man-made disasters as well that are just as damaging as the ones caused by nature itself. These days, government leaders work hand in hand in addressing key climate change and global warming issues to protect the lives of their constituents and lessen the damage to properties and infrastructure.
It is never too late to change our ways to lessen the damage to the environment and slow down the progression of climate change. While we can’t undo the damage of yesteryears, we can clean up our act and start doing environment-friendly measures aside from being always ready for when disaster strikes.