Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are often frightening and difficult for us to understand, because we have no control over when and where they happen. What we can control is how prepared we are as communities and governments to deal with the dangers that natural disasters bring.

Places that are more likely to have natural disasters, such as the earthquake-prone Pacific Ring of Fire, or coastal areas vulnerable to hurricanes, require accurate methods of predicting disasters and warning the public quickly. Once the people have been informed, evacuation routes must be provided so that they can all leave quickly and safely, even if they travel by foot. Emergency warnings and evacuation plans are not enough, though. Where there is a high risk of earthquakes, buildings need to be strong and flexible enough to survive a quake without collapsing. Where hurricanes and flooding are a problem, levees and dams must be strong enough to hold floodwaters, and natural drainage systems must be maintained to allow waters to flow back into the ocean. The failure of the levee and drainage systems was responsible for most of the destruction and flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was the poor planning of evacuation routes and assistance for those trapped by the flooding that resulted in the many tragic fatalities.

People need to be educated on the risks in their area, and what to do when a disaster strikes. After a disaster, even if no one has died, there is a lot of damage to people' homes, farms and workplaces that must be repaired. This takes a lot of time and money to fix, and a country damaged by a disaster usually needs a large amount of international help to get better. Donated food, clothing, medicine and experienced professionals are all important when there is a disaster, but when the emergency is over it can take years to rebuild and make sure that future disasters can be managed. The boxing-day tsunami which devastated Indonesia and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan were both natural disasters whose effects were made worse by underdeveloped infrastructure and widespread poverty. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes or any other natural disaster can't be avoided, but with good preparation and well-organized help after the fact, it is possible to survive and go back to normal life afterwards.

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS.

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