Disasters are defined as “a sudden calamitous event that bring about greatdamage, loss, or destruction” (1) The key elementin this definition is the word sudden. How “long” does a disaster last? Are theeffects equal for everyone affected in the area? Why are some events consideredto have more recognition and others not so much? Are just few of the questionsthat may arise when trying to grasp a complete understanding about disasters. Disastersare mainly of two types, natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides. Andman-made disasters such as war and oil spills. They often vary in the quantity andquality of the damage caused however in most cases the losses exceed the people’sability to recover in a small amount of time. Natural disasters are inevitable,and as Bankoff mentioned they are “nobody’s fault”. Once a disaster pummels intoan area it leads to a massive destruction and loss of life. One of the aspects I find the most interestingabout the Merriam Webster’s definition is the use of the word sudden.
Utilizingthat word will in most cases disregard many horrific events that have takenplace throughout history. Some of the prime examples are the Rwandan andBosnian genocide and the most notorious one of all is the Holocaust duringWWII. These events have brought upon much torment to the world, yet are notconsidered a “disaster” by general terms. As Bankoff mentions in his readingwe cannot continue to categorize disasters as “Acts of God” (7) We know natureis an uncontrollable and technology can fail. For me, the main discrepancybetween natural and man-made disasters is the fundamental component ofhuman ambition.
This is the aftermath of poorly managed man-made structures thattypically end up costing huge amounts of environmental, human and materialdamage. This in a clear example of what happened during Katrina. The time scaleof this disaster was not only measured in days and months but rather years thatit has taken the city and the people of New Orleans to get back on their feetafter such a horrifying experience. Hurricaneshave been carefully researched for many years.
It is somewhat unexpected thatin one of the most developed societies of the world the cause for this disastermight have ultimately been triggered by human neglect. And as we saw in SpikeLee’s video many people hold the Army Corp of Engineers accountable for the suddenbreak in the Levees given that they were supposed to shield the city of NewOrleans. I truly relishthe comparison drawn between Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks inBirklands article. It is yet another great illustration of what we have beendiscussing in class. Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks are one of the mosttragic disasters in American history.
“Hurricane Katrina is the deadliesthurricane and most expensive natural disaster in American history. Around 1,800people lost their lives during this catastrophe. And bringing in a total ofover 160 billion US dollars’ worth of damages.” (4) It is extremely hard to devise a so called”duration” of these events given that each victim handles the effectsdifferently. On one side Katrina shows how disaster management response teamswere inefficient and unprepared for the magnitude of this event. Many of the victimsof hurricane Katrina disaster waited multiple days to be evacuated, resultingin a high level of traumatic experiences. “Mayor Ray Nagin admitted that earlymandatory evacuation could have helped save more lives in New Orleans. Whenflooding started in New Orleans the response was delayed.
There was no oneavailable to help the victims of Katrina when the hurricane hit New Orleans.” (5)However, when looking at the 9/11 attacks, it is clear that the disaster wasmeticulously planned and coordinated carefully. The time scale of this event issomewhat similar to Katrina’s given that the site itself took months to cleanand the New York City to this day, is still recovering from this attack.
Responseteams for the Pentagon and World Trade Center arrived at each site within aquestion of minutes offering aid to those affected. Analyzing the vulnerabilityof these people and the mental harm caused by hurricane Katrina and theSeptember 11 attacks, helps to better understand the agony most of these peoplego through. “The influential book At Risk:Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters (Blaikie et al.1994), which looked at disasters and their impacts in a global context, laid outa framework for conceptualizing vulnerability as rooted in unsustainable developmentpractices, social conditions and trends that diminish the coping capacity of at-riskpopulations” (2) Birkland is trying to point out that those most susceptible tothe disproportionate social impacts are the poor.
Yet few political changes aremade to address this issue. In the case of Katrina, the poor were much more vulnerable given that they have the inability toafford repairs, refurbish their homes and when housed in government or publicprojects they were mistreated, adding more misery to their current state ofmind. “Classic sociological research on disasters emphasized thepro-social and adaptive dimensions of disaster-related behavior. Studiesconsistently documented such patterns as widespread helping behavior amongcommunity residents, the emergence of new groups focusing on victim andcommunity needs, increases in social cohesion, the convergence of volunteersand material resources into disaster areas” (5) As we saw in Spike Lee’sdocumentary and in the short video from Puerto Rico not only do these eventscause physical devastation but they destroy the psyches of the people who havesurvived these tragedies. Individuals and communities must find a balancebetween anxiety and preparedness, in order to go on with productive andfulfilling lives.
“Where was the help when New Orleans was flooding? Who wasthere to help the citizens from drowning?” (3) We can clearly notice the impactsof Katrina on highly vulnerable groups such as the poor, young children, pregnant women, widows andelderly people. Inconclusion to handle the situation efficiently we need proper disastermanagement teams which can take charge as soon as the disaster strikes. To someextent I realized that we, the human population, are not ready to deal effectivelywith disasters. The challenges we face are constantly haunting our present inregard to these disasters. These challenges continue to test our character andpower of will. History illustrates a long line of failures in responding tothese events, yet at the same time we are able to learn and improve upon ourmistakes.
The 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina were both a wakeup call. Theword disaster can be analyzed from different viewpoints but in order to recordand study the aftermaths of these events we must define them with a neutralstandpoint. Trying to illustrate what occurred is something that every survivorwill process differently and we must be willing to move on and cherish ourcurrent achievements in order to help prevent future mishaps.