How does the international community deal with natural disasters?



Wrecked house after a hurricane [photo] - NatGeo

Natural disasters are major adverse events caused by particular phenomena related to the earth's activity and sometimes exacerbated by human activity. These events can cause loss of life and property and leave economic damage, the severity of which depends on how people cope with the consequences, which depend on the resilience and prosperity of the population. In the most vulnerable areas, adverse events can have catastrophic consequences and leave permanent damage that can take years to repair. In modern times, the line between natural and man-made disasters is difficult to draw, and human decisions and attitudes can play a role. The management of natural disasters is an important issue for international relations and the international community, as the problem has become a major burden for all, especially in populous and poor developing countries, where such phenomena cause constant misery. Over the past two decades, many countries have attempted to find appropriate solutions to the problem through the development of technologies and the implementation of legal instruments. However, these means have only partially solved the problem, since, on the one hand, the new technologies allow countries to predict some, but not all, natural disasters and, on the other, the legal instruments created by international organisations have allowed countries to achieve significant results, particularly in the fight against climate change.

First of all, all natural disasters are multidisciplinary and cause loss of life and property as well as social and economic dislocation. They range from predictable to unpredictable and are classified according to their origin. Exogenous phenomena such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and all disasters that are simply due to natural activities form the first category of disasters. They account for 90% of disasters and are relatively easy for humans to predict. However, nature is not the only element responsible for what happens. In fact, humans can cause disasters that are just as destructive as nature's. Forest fires, nuclear explosions, oil spills, deforestation are just some of the environmental disasters caused by man and his activities. These problems are becoming more frequent and their unpredictability makes it unlikely that the environmental damage they cause can be repaired in the short term.

Natural disasters of exogenous origin, resulting from extreme processes at the Earth's surface associated with certain atmospheric or marine conditions, tend to increase in frequency and magnitude as a result of global environmental degradation. The causal relationship between deforestation and improper agricultural practices in the upper catchment and flooding in the lower reaches of rivers is well known. The increase in landslide disasters caused by human intervention on slopes is also well known. Less well known is the fact that droughts are increasing as the arid and semi-arid world becomes more vulnerable to droughts due to environmental degradation known as desertification. In addition, the rise in global surface temperatures is a major factor in the occurrence of natural disasters. The main causes of climate change and global warming include intense human activities and wrong industrial policy decisions. In addition, the causes of disasters are also social in nature, in particular widespread poverty, conflict-induced migration and problematic land use practices, which are not homogeneous, i.e. different places and people are affected differently.

Amazonia wildfire [photo] - BBC News


When considering the phenomenon in its entirety, it is important to emphasize how time has changed and that people in the past were not aware of all these disasters. In the time before the Industrial Revolution, people mainly experienced natural phenomena that they saw as punishments from God. Societies were unable to take measures to contain the disasters because it was not enough to simply pray or build weak protective walls against storms. Moreover, disasters such as hurricanes and floods in the past occurred mainly in the tropics and at certain times of the year. With the development of new societies and new technologies, the situation has changed. Industrial activity has intensified and has had numerous impacts on the planet. Problems such as oil spills in the sea or nuclear explosions are becoming more frequent, causing environmental damage that is unlikely to be repaired in the short term. In addition, climate change due to wrong economic policy decisions and massive deforestation have also played an important role: Natural disasters have lost their "local" dimension and their intensity and frequency have increased exponentially.

With a view to coping with natural disasters and in view of industrial development and the aggravation of these phenomena caused by man and nature, governments have decided to cooperate with each other You mean. In this regard, an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) was formulated under the auspices of the General Assembly UN and an inter-agency secretariat and an inter-agency task force were established to coordinate the implementation of the strategy. The Inter-Agency Task Force for Disaster Reduction, convened in Geneva in April 2000, identified early warning as one of its priority areas for ISDR implementation. Early warning in the context of disasters allows potential hazards to be identified or predicted and a warning issued. Although extreme natural events such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes are not entirely under human control, space technology makes it possible to predict the occurrence of some of these events with a good degree of certainty. Rather than collectively rising to the challenge of preventing or at least mitigating the effects of such disasters, the inadequate and premature provision of assistance in the aftermath of these events has only served to perpetuate the misery of the worst affected, silently suffering victims of disasters. An effective disaster management system consists of four main elements: Disaster Forecasting, Disaster Warning, Disaster Management and Disaster Relief. Disaster warning is a basic requirement for ensuring disaster preparedness and, in some cases, for preventing the disaster itself. One of the most important applications for satellites is therefore the detection, prediction and early warning of impending disasters such as floods, droughts and hurricanes; forest fires and volcanic eruptions can also be detected in good time by satellite systems.


But in spite of the measures taken by the various governments, this is not enough. The difficulties in coping with natural disasters are becoming more and more evident in the countries of Central Africa or Central America, where disasters are occurring with increasing frequency. The disruptive effect is simply due to the impossibility of using advanced and effective warning systems; as a result, any intervention proves both late and ineffective. In this way, countries whose economies are already vulnerable and mainly based on agriculture suffer a further blow leading to climate migration. From this point of view, countries such as Honduras and Guatemala are good examples. Moreover, satellite systems seem to be sufficiently effective in predicting disasters due to Earth's activities, but not in man-made disasters. Indeed, human activities are not predictable at any level and are therefore difficult to detect and prevent in advance.


In summary, natural disasters are phenomena with a particularly destructive force that can cause both loss of life and great and lasting damage on a social and economic level. The impact certainly varies depending on the areas affected by the natural disasters, and the resilience of the population also varies due to social conditions. Not all the natural disasters have the same origin and causes, which affects their management. While exogenous disasters can be easily predicted thanks to the use of satellite systems, man-made disasters cannot be detected at all. However, it is important to stress that the satellite system is not infallible either. In fact, its use is not optimal for all countries. In particular, the least developed countries suffer the greatest consequences precisely because they lack the resources and technical knowledge to make the best use of early warning systems.

 

References

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Image references


- Wrecked house after a hurricane [photo] - NatGeo

- Amazonia wildfire [photo] - BBC News


Author Photo

Federica Panico

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