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Let’s stop calling recent disasters ‘natural’ because they’re not

Let’s stop calling recent disasters ‘natural’ because they’re not

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  • The disasters hitting us may originally be forces of nature, but we had a role in making them even more catastrophic
typhoon natural disasters

There’s nothing new about typhoons, volcanic eruptions and forest fires especially in a tropical country sitting in the Pacific Ring of Fire like ours. These are all force majeure that mere humans can’t stop from happening. But over time, we’ve also figured out that there are things that we can do so that they don’t become vastly catastrophic. 

[READ: Our country is the fourth in the world most affected by extreme weather events, according to this report]

Technological advances have led us to develop tools that help predict and detect incoming weather disturbances, as well as measure how strong storms and earthquakes are prior to and in their aftermath. Structural reinforcements can be built to prevent buildings, roads and even homes from toppling over and being destroyed by strong winds and tremors. We’ve even developed vaccines to prevent some deadly diseases from spreading. 

flood natural disaster
Coastal areas are in huge danger during typhoons, especially when sea levels start to rise (Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay)

Having a better understanding of natural phenomena, why they happen, and what we can do to mitigate them can save a lot of lives. On the flipside, neglecting them can cost us a lot more. 

With the huge role that human activities play in them, the triggers and severity of recent “natural disasters” don’t seem so “natural” anymore. Climate change reporter Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent story published in National Geographic even suggested that we should use the term “man-made natural disasters” for recent phenomena instead. 

Earthquakes and typhoons

earthquake natural disaster
Buildings are left in rubbles by earthquakes, causing many to lose their homes and livelihoods (Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay)

“Many earthquakes, for example, are now triggered by human activity,” Kolbert wrote. In fact, a study in 2017 showed that mining and oil fracking have induced earthquakes worldwide. “The removal of material from the earth can cause instability leading to sudden collapses that trigger earthquakes.”

In 2013, our country was hit by super typhoon Yolanda which affected millions of people and destroyed thousands of homes. Following its devastation, experts said that human factors like overpopulation and climate change made us more vulnerable to destruction caused by natural phenomena. We’ve also written about how a United Nations report showed that we could face even stronger typhoons if global temperatures continued to rise. And for this problem, greenhouse emissions and climate change take a lion’s share of the blame.

The back-to-back onslaught of typhoons in the country last year reinforces the report’s findings and calculations. In addition to the strong winds and rainfall, lives have been accosted by floods and landslides—which could have been reduced or mitigated by having enough forest cover. Due to deforestation, part of nature’s line of defense against storms had been weakened or completely removed over time. This is another common example of how human activity can affect natural disasters for the worse. 

Wildfires and pandemics

forest fire climate change
Land developers intentionally start forest fires sometimes to make way for land grabbing (Image by Ylvers from Pixabay)

Although wildfires can naturally occur especially during dry weather and droughts, they mostly happen because of unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes and arson. Here in our country, it is intentionally started to clear lands that some developers and big businesses are eyeing for urban development. 

Let’s not forget about how the COVID-19 pandemic spread widely and quickly because of the failure to quickly quarantine those infected and implement other measures like lockdowns.

“Pathogens have, presumably, been jumping between animals and humans for as long as both have been around. But for most of human history, such ‘spillover events’ were limited in their impact,” wrote Kolbert in her report. “As people increasingly destroy other animals’ habitats and move species around the world, outbreaks of novel diseases will become more common.” 

Now we’re bearing the consequences of our destructive actions and with the way things are going, we might not have been ready for how nature can badly bite back.

Reflections and solutions

The previous year was laden with a long list of disasters, and it somehow feels like 2021 may be turning into a “rinse and repeat” cycle. While we can’t stop natural phenomena, what we can do as humans is provide positive interventions instead. Encourage leaders to move and tackle the climate crisis, hold entities accountable and liable for the environmental destruction that they cause and replace band-aid remedies with better, longer-term actions.

Nolisoli.ph © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.

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