Disasters, politics and religion

I just finished watching 2 documentaries. One on the current Haiti post earthquake and the other on the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami. Last weekend, I had watched a tsunami one using footage filmed by people at the sites while the waves destroyed everything and they were interviewed about what they went through and who they lost.

It’s impossible to watch these without crying. It astonishes me how in the Haiti one, the geologist who’s the on camera narrator and main character, insomuch as documentaries about events and science have a main character, is able to go about his photos and observations without crying.

I guess at some point the horror is just too overwhelming, but I couldn’t help but interprete some real glee and excitement in many of the geologists in talking about we knew this was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.

And I know that data is critical to gather while it’s fresh, but it’s just a bit hard to take watching a calm man get excited over cracks in the ground, upthrust areas and sunken areas, while in the background of the shots, people are digging through rubble trying to find loved ones or some in tact item from their former life.

The geologist talks about the overwhelming stench of death in the air, and it strikes me that that isn’t all that has a bad odour.

A huge part of what caused the enormous death toll and destruction wasn’t the heavily populated area on a fault line, but the lack of a building code and no infrastructure to enforce any.

Most heavily populated areas are in some kind of disaster zone. The next time Vesuvius blows like it did for Pompeii, and 2 million + people live in the immediate area…… well, it would be the worse natural disaster in recorded history.

It’s the word, natural, that kept jumping out at me while watching the documentaries.

In the Five Years later, one village had been reduced from 6000 people to 1200 – with only 400 women and 8 children five years later. The older children who had survived were now teenagers, orphaned, and largely leaving the village without an education for other places for work.

While the village had been rebuilt – and to new stronger building codes, the tourists were not returning. Partly because no destination hotel or resort was rebuilt and this was largely owing to a fundamentalist Islamic group that had descended on the site in the immediate aftermath to help clear debris, bury bodies and begin the rebuilding.

But, they didn’t leave. They remained and told everyone that the disaster was divine punishment. They put Sharia Law in place and they police the village. Some villagers became devote, others, not as much and for the most part, these are the ones who are leaving.

And them staying and enforcing the law to anyone within the village means that the one industry that could ensure the villaige’s economic future and existance – tourism – is not going to happen.

Tourists do not go to romantic beaches to sit 3 feet away from each other and control their bodies and hands. Women tourists certainly do not go the beach to cover up.

Saving a people’s souls while destroying their bodies and ability to be self-sufficient, isn’t a help to them.

How do you make sense of the senseless? The destruction, the loss of life, not even being able to bury the body of your loved one.

My mind goes blank trying to comprehend it even.

But, what doesn’t make sense is to accept that the disaster was somehow caused by human social or moral behaviour. Nor does it make sense to then turn to the very deity that, let’s face it, pretty much allowed the disaster to occur.

Disasters really should spell the end for deities. If deities are all powerful, then why allow a disaster to kill so many, destroy so much. Do you really want to beleive that all the dead babies were going to be evil? Or that their parent or sibling are, so the baby had to die to punish them?

Really? Evil babies?

We know what causes disasters – the tectonic plates shifting, subduction, releasing pressure and the earth quakes and when that shift displaces water, we have the tsunami.  Wind and differing water/air temperatures cause hurricanes, and wind conditions tornadoes. Volcanoes are welling super heated magma from the earth’s mantle.

There is no reason to think that any deity is using this natural events to punish people.

There’s no reason to think that a deity spared particular people either. What kind of so called loving deity picks and chooses?

When Katrina happened, many religious leaders claimed it was to punish sinners and because abortion was legal and gays/lesbians were tolerated.

Imagine hearing that – you’re in New Orleans, your city is under water, your home is gone, you are separated from your family, there’s little in the way of water, food or help.

And some moron in a suit’s biggest concern is Roe v Wade and gay marriage?

One of the underlying issues of disasters is being prepared for them. And most of us are not.

Cities need to prepare with building codes and enforcement to minimize damage before it happens. With infrastructure, disaster routes and an informed population.

At higher government levels, there needs to be first responders and aid agencies on call. And that needs funding.

What it doesn’t need are fundies of any religious bent.

Consider a fundie politician who genuinely believes that disasters are divine punishment.

What this means is that he is certain that the disaster is the deity’s plan. Is he really going to vote for funding to mitigate a disaster and thwart a deity’s plan?

Is he going to be willing to vote to spend money on aid to help people the disaster missed?

Is he going to be willing to spend money on large scale mitigation, like proper levees, water barricades, public disaster shelters?

And then you have to wonder, will these same politicans also vote to protect the environment locally and with climate change on the horizon, especially when that conflicts with business?

After all, if the rapture is coming and the deity is going to fix it all, why should we now?

Or, if we’re all or most of us are doomed, again, they are going to interfere with that?

So, as much as I thought that the geologists weren’t emotional about the disaster because they were too focused on learning what they could about the disaster in front of them, I realize that the reason this focus is there is so that they can learn and save lives in the future.

Something that the religious zealots are not interested in. They want to hurry the endtimes and be rewarded now. Because they fear dying and things like the rapture are along the lines of Don’t Pass Go, Don’t Collect $200, go straight to jail – only the opposite good mean – don’t die, go direct to heave where you get to look down and see everyone suffering on earth.

And it’s really funny to me that people who believe that there’s an afterlife, fear death and dying.

Funny weird and to a lesser extent, funny ha ha.

People who understand that disaster are natural and arbitrary, know that life is precious because it’s the only one we have.

We have to learn as much as we can to prevent and reduce future deaths. We have to see that disasters are natural. And we have to spend money to mitigate and reduce disasters before they happen, whether they are going to happen in 10, 50 or 100 years.

We need to look at cities that are below sea level and vulnerable and build the safety systems to a 500 year standard – if we ensure the defenses can withstand a category 6, then anything else below that is inconvenient, not utter destruction.

We need to look at cities in any danger zone has appropriate and enforced building codes, exit routes, close by disaster relief resources, and capacity to evacuate if there’s an ability to give notice or after to relocate and reunite people (and their pets).

We need warning systems that span regions, not just here and there in an uncoordinated manner.

The earthquake in Alaska in the 1960′s caused tsunami damage down the coast of British Columbia and into California – where deaths occured. No one at the time knew that the event were related.

We improve technologies, we conduct research and explore new ideas about disasters and we can  save lives and the property and infrastructure damage is minimized to help those lives carry on.

It’s okay for people to turn to a faith for personal comfort, but it’s not okay to rely on those religions to help us avoid or recover collectively from those disasters.