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The MPA in Emergency and Disaster Management
Disaster Central
MCNY's Emergency and Disaster Management Blog

Cyclone Nargis

May 7, 2008

Once again we’ve been unhappily reminded of humankind’s relative fragility in the face of nature’s more dramatic workings.  Earlier this week, Cyclone Nargis brought Category 4 winds, storm surge conditions, and precipitation counts to the northeastern shores of the Bay of Bengal.  Hardest hit was the nation of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where as of the date of this post, some 41,000 people have been listed as killed, and another 41,000 posted as missing.  The latest media reports have warned that any delays in providing humanitarian assistance could see the death toll rise as high as 100,000.  As with all events of this magnitude, it’s possible the death toll could rise even further, or even drop, as recovery operations proceed and a more accurate assessment is available.  A number of nations and private organizations have pledged relief aid to Myanmar, and Disaster Central urges you to contribute what you can.  The New York City Office of Emergency Management’s website contains important information on the most effective ways to contribute.  Please see the link to OEM’s website on this blog.

Naturally, events like Cyclone Nargis also reaffirm for coastal regions around the globe the need to devise and implement effective early warning systems, improved and enhanced evacuation protocols, more robust and comprehensive public health and mass care practices, stronger shelters, and plans that have a strong operational component.  Much has been said about the current political situation in Myanmar, and its possible influence on the preparedness, response, and recovery phases of this event.  This is a story we’ve heard before from this region, particularly in the case of the Great Cyclone of November, 1970, (also known as the Bhola Cyclone) which killed upwards of 500,000 people in Bangladesh and fueled further political unrest between East Pakistan (as Bangladesh was then known) and West Pakistan (now simply Pakistan) where the nation’s political and response networks were centered.  In time, East Pakistan was granted its independence, and for this reason, the 1970 cyclone is sometimes identified as “the cyclone that gave birth to a nation.”  We’ve also heard it applied to our own nation’s political profile and emergency management practices following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana in late-August of 2005.  Only time and history can reveal the “truth” of such assessments, but it is well known that governments that are unresponsive to the needs of their citizens in times of peril and fear are governments that don’t last.

But as equally the case with many large-magnitude events, there is more to this horror than government inaction and poor emergency management operations.  We’re a crowded planet, and it’s in the nature of humankind to build, farm, fish, and to persevere in those parts of the world where natural disasters are likely to occur.  For many voluntary and involuntary reasons, humankind farms the flanks of active volcanoes, crowds earthquake fault lines, and builds its “palaces” on sheets of sand.  It’s ironic, yes, and even contrary to the wisdom of human experience – but only when an eruption or earthquake occurs.  Until that time, humankind is willing to weather the occasional risk in order to achieve a more constant return.  This return is almost always economic, and for that reason, its influences and consequences often compliment one another.  The less-enfranchised citizenry of a less-enfranchised country have little choice but to live in danger zones because, quite simply, the land is less expensive, available, and due to nature’s frenetic activity, often fertile.

After the Second World War, policymakers urged the adoption of an economic globalization model as a preventative measure against another devastating war of magnitude.  With its exceptions, this concept appears to have worked – at least for the time being.  Perhaps now is the time to consider adopting this model for a global approach to emergency management and security.  After all, it does seem inevitable that an ongoing need exists.  As the global economy continues to grow (and yes, it will continue to expand), as markets develop and flourish, all the nations of the world will want to protect their respective interests in those areas beset by natural and technological hazards by ensuring enhanced business continuity protocols and practices – both at home and abroad.  Although it’s secondary to the communal suffering of the human community, the disaster in Myanmar is also an economic crisis (albeit, smaller in scale), and the world must always act to save lives through saving systems because if these systems fail, more lives will be lost.  Hopefully, the world’s nations will continue to actively work together in a non-partisan manner to ensure that when a future earthquake hits, or a cyclone makes landfall, or a terrorist strikes, it won’t be said by future generations that we did nothing as human beings to protect and prepare our own.

Professor Longshore

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Disaster Central is also a resource for information relating to MCNY’s MPA program in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, as well as providing insight and commentary on the topics of Disaster Management, Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

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