Politics of Disaster: Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Aid

Politics of Disaster: Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Aid

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Such news as Japan's triple calamity of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, and the recent New Zealand earthquake, have generated millions of words and images across the proliferating range of media platforms, yet other news does not cease, it merely leaves the headlines for a brief interlude.

Indeed, suicide bombings continue in Iraq and Afghanistan as usual, Qaddafi continues his efforts to shore up his regime on a bedrock of spent ammunition shells and Wisconsin voters go on to rage against their predatory state government (a talent lost to Californians).

Yet, as the same mean old world stays its course, calamities also inspire a honeymoon of sorts -- a kind of disaster diplomacy flourishes whereby opposing governments offer an olive branch or two. China has been Japan's fiercest detractor since it was occupied by Japanese forces from 1937 to 1945 with a human toll of 20 million, yet the Chinese government has offered its formal condolences as well as a variety of aids in the face of the current disaster.

When an earthquake struck the Iranian city of Bam in 2004, with a toll of 26,271, the United States was quick to fly military aircraft laden with emergency supplies into the disaster zone. Even North Virginia's Fairfax County sent in its Urban Search and Rescue Squad.

A look into the future reveals that disasters on the scale of the one currently unfolding in Japan are increasingly to be the rule rather than the exception. Urban centers on major earthquake faultlines , as well as on the paths of tropical storms and hurricanes, are becoming denser with population, and threatening massive losses of lives once the inevitable disasters strike.

Istanbul, Turkey is a prime example. A city of 10 million, and sitting near the North Anatolian Fault in one of the most seismically active regions of the world, it is due for a major earthquake. Replete with old brick structures, which do not comply with any code, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Thirteen earthquakes with magnitudes between 6.5 and 7.9 have shaken the region since 1939. The 1999 events in nearby, far less populated, Izmir and Duzce killed 18, 374 people. The same seismic pressure is now literally "moving" toward Istanbul.

Closer to home, the California Coast is as vulnerable as ever to severe earthquakes that can result in major losses of life and property in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, with a magnitude of 8.25, resulted in 3,000 deaths while 300,000 people were left homeless after the ensuing fire, out of a population 410,000. Today, the city's population is fast approaching one million.

The ongoing and impending disasters, however, are not without their distinct opportunities. They should open our eyes to a globe which has become truly interdependent—politically, financially and environmentally. We are all in this together, regardless of geographic location, nationality, race, religion and political belief.

Instead of a mere honeymoon and an ephemeral olive branch, we have no choice but to adopt a truly global and humanitarian vision which is now essential to our survival. America cannot go on with endless wars in Southwest Asia to ensure plentiful oil even as it fights people who resent the invasion of their land and the appropriation of their natural resources.

Fossil fuel as a dirty, dangerous and divisive commodity must become a thing of the past. Indeed "sustainability" becomes more than a fancy word when its numberless, staunch defenders ditch their cars to clamor for clean, efficient mass transit. With images of reactors on fire filling our screens, we must look for sane lifestyles for which renewable, non-nuclear energy would suffice.

Locally grown food with locally generated water supplies should take the place of Big Agribusinesses whose "factories in the fields" poison earth and water, and rely on exploited, undocumented labor even as it maintains slaughterhouses for the mass murder of genetically modified, crippled animals.

These efforts should be global and persistent, pooling together all natural, financial, technological and human resources. It may indeed be the case that we will go on fighting each other until we discover that banding together is our only way to survive.