World of Hurt

Destroyed in seconds: An Alabama neighborhood lies in ruins after being poked by the Finger of God.

By any measure, 2011 has been a superlatively rough year for Mankind. In just four months, Australia has suffered major flooding; New Zealand’s second-largest city was virtually flattened by an earthquake; Japan suffered the triple-header of the biggest earthquake in that country’s known history, a tsunami, and a serious nuclear emergency; and just this week, the southern US experienced the biggest tornado outbreak in at least 37 years – and possibly ever – resulting in a loss of life second only to the fabled Tri-State Tornado of 1925 that killed about 700 people. Devastating is the sort of word that usually turns into hyperbole if overused, but when a major catastrophe occurs somewhere in the world on a monthly basis, the word actually starts to sound a little bland.

And the disasters are not just video footage for the casual consumption of the local news viewer, but have real impacts that ripple around the world. Japan’s catastrophe, for example, has affected production in a few manufacturing firms here in the Philippines, and has even forced the Philippine government to significantly change its short-term financial planning. The flooding in Australia at the beginning of the year has interfered with that country’s ability to export coal for steel industries in China, India, and elsewhere, driving up commodity prices. Ironically, coal prices that were skyrocketing in the wakes of the floods dropped quickly as a result of Japan’s disaster temporarily wiping out demand from that country in March, but have resumed a fast climb in the past month. The tornadoes in the US, while spectacular, drew attention away from what has been a much more widespread and potentially bigger related disaster: massive flooding in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, where millions of acres of the world’s biggest food producer’s farmlands are now underwater.

That this seismically-active and typhoon-prone nation would rather focus on pleasant irrelevancies and the presumed sins of the past administration rather than the real risks it faces is as disappointing as it is unsurprising. Even without the famous Pinoy bahala na attitude, incomprehensible disasters make most people at least a little fatalistic. Of course there is nothing anyone can do to prevent an earthquake, or a typhoon, or a buhawi, nor can anyone do anything other than react to the global ripples these kinds of disasters can cause from somewhere over a distant horizon. That is the challenge of life on this planet under the best of circumstances. And the circumstances are most certainly not their best when we continually fill the spaces between the inevitable big calamities with lots of little ones we can hardly blame on Mother Nature – a rash of squatter-area fires, yet another landslide in a deforested wildcat mining area, polluted and silt-choked waterways, runaway population growth.

“But,” you may protest, “I didn’t cause any of those problems.” Didn’t you? How many sachets have you bought in the past month? Do you separate your recyclables and biodegradable waste from your other trash? Do you walk a few blocks, or do you take a tricycle? Did you plan all your children, or are one or more of them “happy accidents?”

And even if your answers are “none,” “yes,” “walk,” and “I’m such a good customer, Durex gave me a free calendar,” then do you know what you will do when the inevitable happens? Where will you go? How will you get there? Do you have a simple package with your important documents, a little money, and a few emergency supplies close at hand to take with you? Do you have a friend or relative outside the area who you and your family can contact for help, or to let everyone else know you’re safe?

If the first thought that occurs to you when thinking about those questions is, “the government will help us,” then consider this: in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the city hardest hit by the tornadoes of a few days ago, the city government lost its emergency management center, several police and fire stations, all its emergency response vehicles, and its main communications tower. Governments, being human inventions, are as vulnerable to the forces of nature as any other human thing. Hoping for the best is not a plan. Let the events of the past few months be an example of how bad things can be, and let those of us who have just had the random luck so far to not be on the wrong end of nature’s wrath find ways to reduce our risks and give ourselves the best chance of recovering.

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About BenK

I write a column for The Manila Times on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Most of the energy sector and the heads of several government agencies probably wish I didn’t.

Post Author: BenK

I write a column for The Manila Times on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Most of the energy sector and the heads of several government agencies probably wish I didn’t.

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36 Comments on "World of Hurt"

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Hyden Toro
Guest

The phenomena of the Universe is interconnected…this is the Truth.
If we don’t take care of our Planet Earth, our home. The Planet Earth will not take care of us…as in the third law of Physics: “if there is an action; there is and equal or opposite reaction.” We will survive as human species…it is in tribulations, that we learn and grow…it is a growth and knowing process for all of us…

ahehe
Guest

Did you happen to see that so-called prophet, interviewed by TVPATROL, who said Philippines WILL BE SPARED FROM CALAMITIES?

Anyway, it seems PRAYER is flipland’s disaster gameplan.

Ron
Guest

Yeah, total bull if you ask me.

Joe America
Guest
“That this seismically-active and typhoon-prone nation would rather focus on pleasant irrelevancies and the presumed sins of the past administration rather than the real risks it faces is as disappointing as it is unsurprising.” So you are basically saying that the Aquino Administration should not multitask, should not pursue major, multimillion dollar corruption cases, and should not fulfill campaign promises to the people. What kind of values are you representing in this kind of statement? Now the point that the Philippines is not doing enough to prepare for natural disasters is a good one. When no building permits are required… Read more »
benign0
Admin
I don’t know how you went from BenK’s highlighting of Noynoy’s misplaced priorities to concluding that he was for putting a stop to the President’s “multitasking”. I believe the issue here being noted is a lack of priority put on preparedness which, in turn, highlights the relative importance of the actual initiatives being prioritised by Malacanang (and the Media). Compare those with the tasks as hand as far as preparing for calamities and the overall direction we are headed when we consider the unabated environmental mess we are creating. The implications of Malacanang’s misguided priorities now on the lives of… Read more »
Joe America
Guest

I personally don’t think rooting out corruption is a misplaced priority.

Rafterman
Guest
We can try hard to avoid mentioning Aquino but it is a fact that he iconifies the typical dysfunctional Pinoy. His face pretty much serves as a succinct summary of the “damaged culture” that James Fallows wrote about. From what he says or does (or what he doesn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t do) to the “reasons” people gave as to why they elected him, he has earned his place along with Juan Tamad, Willie Revillame (minus the brain and business savvy of course) and Juan Tanga as a symbol of the mediocrity and stupidity that plagues our people. Mentioning him is just like what… Read more »
Joe America
Guest

President Aquino is a product of his culture, indeed, of favoritism and self-advancement over the good of others. But now he is the president, with a job that none of us could do to perfection. How do we avoid succombing to the same tendencies of other Filipinos, to deride and tear down others in favor of building our own reputation? How do we achieve a modicum of sacrifice of self in order to build a harmonious, productive state?

Rafterman
Guest

We have to be aware of those tendencies Joe and curb them. We at AP do not aim to tear down others but to tear down the behaviors of others. It is also our aim to build a harmonious and productive state and we sacrifice our on-line and off-line time in efforts to help our people. Information is power and we are willing to share our time, effort and emotions to share what we know.

ChinoF
Member

Hmmm… speaking of disasters, my friend who passed by North Avenue mentioned to me that Veteran’s hospital was recently marked as an evacuation site for disasters. That struck him as weird. Veteran’s was never named before as an evacuation site. It’s as if the government knows that something is going to happen. Well, that friend of mine really believes that a big disaster is coming for Manila, something worse than Ondoy or the 1990 earthquake. Hope it doesn’t happen.

Frank
Guest

Times like these I feel like going Ra’s al-Ghul. We could save them, but I choose not to. The 1991 earthquake and Pinatubo really only affected Luzon. Something nationwide would be needed to really change things.

Ron
Guest

Oh great, this is a even bigger disaster. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaeda will be more furious, more terrorist will target the US and it’s pretty obvious there will be more killing.

Fight fire with fire will only cause more fire.

Edward
Guest
Yeah heard it dude. All I can say is holy shit! Osama is dead but “Terrorism” is not. They even got it worse by killing him, that means they’ve just infuriated an entire nation breeding more terrorist to join their cause. One strategy in warfare is to use the enemy’s weapon against them, and by weapon I mean “Black Propaganda” mixed with “Grey Propaganda.” The Al-Qaeda will use this news to spread it across their country that will inspire a lot of people to hate the US and maybe even their allies prompting them to use vengeance as a weapon.… Read more »
Edward
Guest

@Joe

Yeah I know, sorry about that, but you know what I mean. I was only wishing to get him alive like what they did to Saddam. Killing him is only going to get more people to kill.

I was also thinking this: What am I going to say to the future families that these guys are going to kill in the future?

But sorry anyway. It’s just that I’ve read a lot of history and the results are the same over and over. You kill one crimelord or a mastermind, another one emerges that’s even far worse than the other.

Joe America
Guest

So what do you suggest? Invite him over for tea?

Joe America
Guest

Ron, Edward,

And exactly what would you say to the families of those thousands who died on 9/11? That you are too afraid of the Muslim fanatics to do what is right?

Sandiya
Guest
Cowards are the main sources of poverty and stupidity in the Philippines and destruction of the nation itself, and they compose most of the population including intellectuals. These weak people just let the criminals do their bribes, threats, and murders, and they do not retaliate for the sake of correct universal moral and ethical principles and natural rights, especially freedom and self defense, that which heroes and most of prosperous nations glorify. Here’s how these human-like sheep think: if they go against criminals, such as those corrupt politicians, street mafias, and terrorists who pleasure invoking fear by threatening to kill… Read more »
ahehe
Guest

9/11 was a staged attack. Fake. My condolences to the victims.