In the face of natural disasters … wait, wait! Wait! There are no disasters in nature. Nature just is. Sometimes, it releases vast amount of energy in a very concentrated space and time. Anything in the path of such release is at risk of getting annihilated. Hurricanes (also called typhoons), tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, sinkholes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, etc. are all high-energy events in nature. It is all just the redistribution of energy without which there would be no life on Earth.
There is no such thing as a 100% safe place anywhere on Earth. Nature’s high-energy events occur in some form or other at some time or another. Yet, there are many places where we know such events do occur with some regularity. For example, those who live in the Western Ghats know that there will be torrential rain during the monsoon (usually). This can cause landslides, flooding etc.
People living along the western coast of North and South America know they live in areas where earthquakes are a common occurrence. From small tremors to big quakes … all are high-energy events. Yet people live in these areas – just look at California!
In the middle of the USA, geographers recognize something called the tornado alley – every year there are any number of tornadoes that rip through the area and people suffer property losses and sometimes even lives.
People living in the islands of the Philippines know that typhoons occur there at certain times of the year and there will be massive flooding, loss of property, lives, and livelihoods.
Likewise people along the eastern coast of the USA live in areas where hurricanes are common – there is even a hurricane season every year. Find out when that is.
Here, in India, we have cyclones in the Bay of Bengal every year during a particular period (Find out: when is this period?). People all along the coast from Bangladesh to Kanyakumari are affected to varying degrees by these storms.
Thus, we can name many places that are in the paths of these high-energy Earth processes where people live, endangering themselves in many ways.
Why? Why do they live there?
It’s partly to do with human psychology. Often, people think, “It won’t be that bad. We’ll be fine.” Except, often they are not fine. Or it is sentimental ties to the land. “Our family has lived here for many generations. We belong to this land. We cannot give up our land.”
Or, there may be livelihood issues. For example, many coastal people depend on fisheries for their livelihood. For generations their lives, livelihoods, culture, etc. have been intimately connected to the sea. They may have a few possessions – perhaps a small shanty, a boat, some nets, etc. In the face of tidal waves, cyclones, tsunamis, etc., they cannot simply up and leave their entire lives behind and move inland and upland. Starting a new life is extremely difficult.
So they continue to live in ‘danger zones’ where ‘natural disasters’ occur. Wherever we live, we strike a tricky bargain with nature. We cannot always control processes around us nor can we always withstand the high-energy events of nature.
In countries such as the USA and Canada, there are opportunities for people to get insurance. Flood insurance, for example, is a huge industry in the USA. Insurance companies actually calculate the risk of floods damaging (or even washing away a whole property) for different locations. These are statistical probabilities (i.e., the chances of such damage occurring at a given location) using which insurance companies charge land-owners a premium. It’s all very tricky. Often, when a flood does happen, insurance companies don’t pay out the money they are supposed to. This leads to court cases, and other hassles. Of course, the federal and state governments, charities, etc. help people out to a certain extent.
In India, such insurance is still not common. This is largely because most land-owners cannot afford the cost (premiums) of such insurance. Therefore, whenever there is a flood, or cyclone, or other such event, the Central and State governments spend a lot of money to help people to rebuild their lives. Private individuals and charities also make huge efforts to help.
When I lived in the USA, during every hurricane season, I used to see news coverage of people being ordered to evacuate areas in the path of the most severe parts of hurricanes. Not everyone obeyed these orders. But most did.
Before evacuating an area, residents would ‘board up’ their homes, shops, etc. so that there would no way for the high-speed winds of the hurricane to go into the building and lift it up, taking it away. Having boarded their buildings, they would often paint slogans taunting the hurricane headed their way.
It always, still, strikes me as remarkable that people can find such humor in the face of such massive forces of nature! I have never seen such taunting in India or surrounding countries about our local storms. May be just the odd cartoon here and there but that too does not taunt the storm.
How we react to the forces of nature varies from culture to culture and often depends on local socio-economic (i.e., social + economic) conditions. A people’s sense of humor is also a very culture-specific phenomenon. May be the sense of humor about our high-energy natural events in the Indian subcontinent is just different from those people in Florida (for example). Why is it that they are capable of expressing themselves in the ways they do, but we are not?
I am still looking for anyone who can tell me any jokes about any such events (including the recent events in Kerala and Kodagu). I am told that laughter is a coping mechanism. Does it not work for us?
Can you tell me about this?
A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, 11 November 2018.
Featured image: Courtesy, https://goo.gl/gP3VfT (Accessed 4 Dec. 2018)