What causes these disasters?

indo quakeAn earthquake in Indonesia.
A tsunami in Samoa.
A flood in the Philippines and Vietnam.

In the last few days we’ve seen images of people covered in mud and chest-deep in water, against backdrops of smashed buildings and upended cars. We’ve seen naked grief, grim searches for bodies and entire villages washed away.

It’s got me thinking – why do we know so little about what causes such massive disasters?With all the advancements in modern science, and the development of highly sophisticated measuring equipment, why can’t we predict more accurately when a storm is going to be become deadly? … or when tectonic plates are going to screech and knock into one another?… or when a quake will result in a huge, destructive wave?

Scientists are making some progess on this — but really, it’s baby steps. In terms of predicting earthquakes, this science blog sums the situation up neatly: “it will be a long time, if ever, before we’ll be ready for every substantial earthquake that might occur”.

And according to LiveScience, tsunamis are hard to predict because nobody knows how a quake has affected the seafloor until hours, days or even months after the event. And, it says, a tsunami is almost imperceptible on the open ocean, rising to full ferocity only as it nears the shore.

Do you think science should be providing more answers on this? Do you think we should have more information about impending catastrophic events?

Or do we simply need to accept that natural disasters do — and will continue to – happen? Should we just accept that science isn’t always going to have the answers?

83 Responses to “What causes these disasters?”

  1. 1 VictorK
    October 1, 2009 at 10:32

    *Whenever I hear a news story beginning, ”Hundreds are feared dead after a [choose your natural disaster] in…”, I know that the afflicted country or countries about to be mentioned will be neither Western nor Japanese.
    *’We’ – meaning Japan and the West – do know what causes these disasters, can usually predict them as they affect our countries, are sufficiently well-organised to evacuate people when necessary, and have the transport & health infrastructure and logistical competence to, in the aftermath, rescue survivors, & minimise deaths.
    *Why ‘we’ can do this and ‘they’ can’t comes down to wealth (which makes science and infrastructure possible), a public culture oriented to the common good, and a political culture in which rulers are accountable to those they govern (and so have a further incentive not to mismanage disasters).
    *I honestly don’t see why any of this needs to be treated as a mystery or a challenge for ‘science’.

    • 2 Pearlson
      October 1, 2009 at 15:45

      Man, proud man…!

      The West and Japan may have all you claim, but may be the causes are more than wealth and public rallying. Perhaps man’s attention need be drawn to something or Someone more than all we already have been led to believe: Aliens, world climate change and universal climate imbalance; or God, man’s many sins and consequent judgement and Second Advent.

      Interestingly, our world may never unite on these subjects!

  2. 3 Robert Evans
    October 1, 2009 at 11:38

    The people in the affected countries need to be rescued and treated for whatever injures. I know one of the NGOs who are already en route to the country and that is the great red cross. Come on world lets support these people and lets get some money together to rebuild the affected parts but this time lets rebuild to a higher standard.

  3. 4 Saad baloch, Pakistan occupied balochistan
    October 1, 2009 at 11:55

    Science should venture in this field as far as possible. May be we do not come out with full accuracy to know when Strom is going to turn deadly.But it might at least produces some positive result which might be used to save precious human lives up to some extent.

  4. 5 anu_d
    October 1, 2009 at 12:04

    The rich and nations with technology should establish it for the poorer nations that are high on risk…such as the various island nations and villages in the Pacific Tsunami prone areas

  5. 6 Robert Evans
    October 1, 2009 at 12:13

    Scientists have only had 100 years to get to this point of knowledge about the Tectonic plates which are under the crust of the earth. I think it is disappointing that they have not been able to develop new techniques to advance research on these tectonic plates.

  6. 7 VictorK
    October 1, 2009 at 12:40

    @anu-D: “The rich and nations with technology should establish it for the poorer nations that are high on risk”. No they shouldn’t.
    *There are very few countries so poor that they couldn’t invest in this technology if they wanted to. The fact that they, or rather their leadership, don’t want to is the issue. Western governments have no business interfering in the non-Western world, whether for good or evil, or re- directing funds away from the tax-payers who made them available to foreigners. And since certain of these poor countries will respond to any attempts at Western assistance with ingratitude, greater hatred for Westerners, claims of colonialism by stealth, conspiracy theories about what the technology is really going to be used for etc, it may actually damage Western interests to get involved with them (I think people know which societies I’m referring to).
    *Poor countries need to develop in a way that will make it possible for them to take responsibility for dealing with these environmental challenges, and not look to techno-imperialism to solve their problems.

  7. 8 Ann
    October 1, 2009 at 12:46

    The destructive and creative power of the tectonic plates is an intergral part of Earth’s natural history. Science can help us to better understand how these forces work and help us to prevent at least some loss of life. But science is a long way away from providing answers that can prevent disasters happening. Sadly natural disasters are inevitable and the best we can do is to reach out to help our fellow man when such devastation occurs.

  8. 9 Crispo, Uganda
    October 1, 2009 at 13:11

    So, fascinating and intruiging are these phenomena that it leaves me, but just puzzled as to what God intendeds our lives to be-that’s if you believe in him. Why must the earth have tectonism, and why must our earth shift the way it is? Is there really a God, who could have abandoned us, his own people, created in his own image to suffer such a fate? I’d like to think otherwise, but the learned knowledge of his existence, albeit forcefully, keeps me short of that thought.
    These are indeed the times when we express our doubts of God’s existence, but it appears even if we do know the true reason as to why these disasters happen, we won’t prevent their occurrence, rather we might just be able to mitigate the damage and loss. The bad news is that, for those of us who live in the developing world, we won’t be there anytime sooner rather the developed world, who are near this realisation, will be urged to put together their help and as usual, do the helping.

    • 10 Ann
      October 1, 2009 at 13:43

      Sorry if this is a bit off topic, but I was fascinated by your sentence “…learned knowledge of his existence, albeit forcefully…”

      Please don’t feel obliged to respond because one’s beliefs and faith are very precious and personal and I don’t want to pry in such a public forum, but I was wondering what you mean by that. I ask this in a genuine way becuase I am very interested in all things religious and spiritual.

  9. 11 anu_d
    October 1, 2009 at 14:10

    Hello Victor,

    –Poor nations cannot afford it.
    many villages on the Andaman & Nicobar islands for example ( that was hit by Tsunami in mid 2000s) do not even have proper electricity or basic medical facilities. The level of poverty of people living in mud houses is unimaginable in many such small islands and investing in technology will not happen for several more decades.

    — The rich nations have to only divest a tiny percentage of their military and global peacekeeing budgets to make this happen….if there is will to help.

    –Your cynicism of poor nations is unfounded and inexplicable.

  10. 12 scmehta
    October 1, 2009 at 14:11

    There’s no way knowing the nature’s ways; and in most of the cases, even if we manage to predict and save a few precious lives and properties, we can’t prevent any natural things from happening. But, we certainly can reduce the disasters on and for our this precious Earth by not doing any further harm and by correcting the harm already done to its atmosphere.

  11. 13 patti in cape coral
    October 1, 2009 at 14:22

    @ Ann – The religious aspect is fascinating, even though I don’t really agree with it. Some Christian friends of mine were commenting on the recent disasters, staying “God speaks in a still, small voice, and if we don’t hear it, he has no choice but to speak in a loud booming voice, hence the disasters.” I don’t know if this is what Crispo meant, but it is a sentiment I have been hearing from a lot of people. Sorry Crispo, don’t mean to put words in your mouth!

  12. 14 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 14:24

    These same forces that kill some people are also necessary for life for all people. It’s like oxygen, you need it to live, but it’s also toxic. Hence why doctors recommend anti oxidants because what you need to live, also shortens your life.

  13. 15 Miriam Hyde
    October 1, 2009 at 14:29

    Evangelical Christians will say it’s because people believe in a god or gods other than Jesus Christ and are being punished for it (I know – I was a part of that group for way too long!). Or that it’s all part of God’s plan to restore the Earth under Jesus’ reign. Or whatever nonsense like that.

    Although America’s recent past leadership disavowed science (and in too many cases, people still do), there are reasons that can explain these occurrences. Not that I am a champion of death and destruction! Most of my family lives in South Florida. Hurricanes, every year, many horrible. My mother’s house was destroyed. She took out a second mortgage and had it all replaced and repaired. Three years later, here is an 83-year old widow with two mortgages, where housing has, quite literally, gone so south she can’t give her house away. I keep asking her to move somewhere safer, and less expensive. She won’t. I don’t get Californians, with all their natural disasters. The USA is a developed country, and often, we can’t stop things before they happen, either because of technology or stubbornness.

    Second and third world countries do not have the means to create similar systems. Personally, I believe the developed countries have a responsibility to allow the other countries access to what we have. It won’t make such events stop, but perhaps it could mean less death.

    Of course, I shouldn’t talk…I moved from Ft Lauderdale to Salt Lake City…right on a fault line!

  14. 16 gary
    October 1, 2009 at 14:39

    I take umbrage at suggestions lack of scientific effort plays a role in such naturally occurring calamities. Laborers in fields of gravimetry, geodesy, physical geography, geology, tectonics, hydrology, limnology, geochemistry, seismology, oceanography, and vulcanology have given their lives (sometimes literally) to understand how the miniscule wiggles in terra infirma may affect their fellowman. As a result, they’ve learned a very great deal about how the Earth works.
    The failure isn’t in lack of knowledge, or even in its poor application, it is in the fundamental unpredictability of chaotic events, and in mankind’s ability to ignore future dangers for the pleasures of today. So, if a scientist may say, “Please don’t live on the sea shore, tsunamis are possible and unpredictable,” those reveling in the exquisite beauty and abundant life will answer, “How can we forsake this?” Or, if the vulcanologist warns the farmer “Volcanoes do but sleep!” The farmer answers, “But just look at my wonderful crops.” I myself live in an area where small, random numbers of people routinely die in tornados, and would live no place else. The bottom line is simple: Science can not cure human nature.

  15. 17 Roy, Washington DC
    October 1, 2009 at 14:43

    We will never understand everything there is to know about the world. There are simply too many factors at work. A relative of mine once asked a TV meteorologist what was considered to be a good level of accuracy with regard to predicting the weather; it was something on the order of 30-40%.

    To go further in depth on why 100% prediction of weather (and natural disasters) isn’t feasible, read up on chaos theory and the “butterfly effect”. We can and should strive to get better at things like this, but there’s only so much we’ll be able to do.

  16. 18 Dan
    October 1, 2009 at 15:06


    It is not often if at all that I agree with Victor K but here he is absolutely right.
    You need to understand that underdeveloped countries have ths fiscal resources they are dissipated thru graft & corruption such that the influx of more money would only feed those too gerrdy and care nothing about their countrymen.
    Furthermore evicerating America’s military will not give you the desired result either.
    America has spent vast sums of our national wealth to help the world and it continues to do so but pouring more money down aqn endless rathole accomplishes nothing of substance. Trillions have been poured into Africa and nothing of substance was accomplished.
    The path forward for underdeveloped countries is to stop the graft and corruption and use that money to improve the lives of it people and develop the science and infrastructure to predict and deal with natural disasters.
    You need to stop acting like a victim and becoem proactive in your country.

  17. 19 vijay pillai
    October 1, 2009 at 15:08

    With the devastating asian tsunami of 2004, people thought the sismologist who were in charge of monitoring these events occuring and inform the public advance has not been used for the saving of poor of the world.

    That said many buildings or houses are built by in areas with no resistance toearthquake of magnintude 6,7 or about always collapse.
    In this case even the best judged and desinged infrastructure would have no chance except early warning systems. That is why in advanced nations Japan,USA and Taiwan suffered the fury of nature.But i wounder if the extractionof oil underground has a hand in collapse of moving fault lines causing earhquakes?

  18. 20 Andrew in Australia
    October 1, 2009 at 15:23

    Sadly, people do not learn from the past or suffer from reality in any large degree. Why does Asia suffer so much, amongst other factors, dense population spreads, a propensity to populate unsafe areas such as coastlines, volcanoes, fault lines and the like and to a smaller degree bad building practices. I am waiting for Vesuvius to erupt again for that big one. Naples will suffer as populations encroach up to the mountain, there have been minor rumblings from that volcano but as nothing really bad has happened. Why not live on the slopes of a killer?

    If you live on a coastline then tidal surges will get you, if you live on a fault line you will be destroyed, tornado alley and get crushed and blown away, same for hurricane tracks, on the slopes of a volcano you will be burried, etc etc. Ultimately there are dangers everywhere but when you decide to ignore sense and live in high risk areas you are courting disaster. Some peoples have little choice but that doesn’t excuse the potential tragedies. It is a case of let’s do what is easiest and let’s live in the short-term and ignore the past and indeed, ignore practical realities.

    What else can result. The world and life is not a game as much as we think our modern lives make it out to be. Nature does not respect our supposed intelligence or sophistication and does not discriminate between species. We are a part of the natural world and it moves to its own tempo and we fail to accomodate to this and to accept this at our own peril.

    • 21 patti in cape coral
      October 1, 2009 at 15:28

      @ Andrew in Australia – Is the land particularly fertile in these more dangerous areas? Is that why people populate them and are so reluctant to leave?

  19. 22 Tamatoa, Zurich
    October 1, 2009 at 15:34

    I ask myself if societies and communities in 3rd World countries would be adjusted to immediate action. Their perception of security might not be like ours. So they have to live differently – maybe have more children to secure survival. If they suddenly found the same securities as here in the developed world they might over-populate or have unsuitable city planning or personal investments. It might take them some time to adjust. So a gradual approach would seem necessary. I think that minimizing the risk of natural disasters leads to more changes than just fewer number of deaths.
    I’m also very intrigued by VictoK’s comment that most countries would have enough money to invest in both research and technology to prevent local natural catastrophies. It would be cool to post these reports. At the moment I don’t really believe it.

  20. 23 John in Salem
    October 1, 2009 at 15:44

    Seismologists don’t yet have the technology to see what’s happening at the depth that earthqakes occur. They drop microphones into deep bore holes on major fault lines and try to establish patterns based on sound but in the end they’re in the same boat that medical science was in a century ago when CAT scans and MRI’s and sophisticated genetic testing hadn’t been invented – they’re forced to make guesses based on insufficient data. If the goal is to accurately predict events it would irresponsible to make predictions at this stage – their value is reliability and being wrong means damaging the credibility of a system that may have the potential to save thousands of lives when fully developed.
    It’s the same story with meteorology. There are simply too many variables that aren’t understood yet and the danger in making predictions is perfectly illustrated by the aftermath of the event that was the basis of the book and movie, “The Perfect Storm” – the surviving families sued the National Weather Service for being wrong.

  21. 24 D. Brockmann
    October 1, 2009 at 15:58

    Hi from windy Hamburg. Our Earth is full of life of itself. I have travelled the world and I have seen how we humans always fight nature and tend to predict its disasters, weather and function. We humans want to rule this earth. We call it disasters because it takes human life and not because it hurts or damages our Earth. Any person, who studies our earth and compares it to other planets, will tell you that our Earth is a very peaceful planet compared to our other neighbors. It humans that are the disaster we should learn to predict and warn. We should know not to build straw houses in windy areas, or live near a river that has a history of flooding or build a house under a volcano or a country like Indonesia should know by now that they will have an earth quake come their way and have better housing for this purpose. Yes we humans forget we live on a planet full of life with within.

  22. 25 Mike in Seattle
    October 1, 2009 at 16:00

    I don’t think it’s an issue of science not doing enough to help society prepare, I think it’s much the reverse – society doesn’t support the support the scientists performing the research.

    I constantly hear politicians make light of what they see as “frivolous research”. One particular comment that comes to mind is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s comment about wasting money on volcano monitoring. As someone who lives within sight of several volcanos, I was flabbergasted.

    What those who hold the purse strings need to understand is that basic research doesn’t occur on a tight schedule, it doesn’t generate a profit and it takes time. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to learn anything about this planet we call home.

  23. 26 T
    October 1, 2009 at 16:07

    Without getting into conspiracy theories, look at it this way. Technology is moving incredibly fast. If a country (or corp.) invented a 100% accurate way to predict natural disasters, do you really think that they would just give it away?

  24. 27 VictorK
    October 1, 2009 at 16:09

    @Tamatoa, Zurich October 1, 2009 at 15:34 – you wrote, “Their perception of security might not be like ours.”
    You might just as well have suggested that their perception of death and dying ‘might not be like ours’!

    You asked (sceptically) about reports re my statement that few countries were so poor that they couldn’t invest in this kind of technology. I don’t know of any reports. But we can still rely on commonsense and certain facts.

    Indonesia had, in 2008, an estimated GDP of $915 billion. It has an army of over 300,000 regulars, a bit excessive for a country of more than 240,000,000 people that is under military threat from nobody at all. And don’t forget the vast mineral sources currently being exploited in the illegally occupied West Papua. Indonesia is certainly able to invest in this technology (and perhaps has – but I doubt it).

  25. 28 Joseph Ubek
    October 1, 2009 at 16:16

    “We understand earthquakes a lot better than we did even 50 years ago, but we still can’t do much about them. They are caused by fundamental, powerful geological processes that are far beyond our control. These processes are also fairly unpredictable, so it’s not possible at this time to tell people exactly when an earthquake is going to occur”(http://science.howstuffworks.com/earthquake7.htm). These statement goes to show that science cannot solve all problems.
    So what can be done about earthquakes? i think along these line “The major advances over the past 50 years have been in preparedness — particularly in the field of construction engineering. In 1973, the Uniform Building Code, an international set of standards for building construction, added specifications to fortify buildings against the force of seismic waves. This includes strengthening support material as well as designing buildings so they are flexible enough to absorb vibrations without falling or deteriorating. It’s very important to design structures that can take this sort of punch, particularly in earthquake-prone areas.)”http://science.howstuffworks.com/earthquake7.htm)

  26. 30 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 16:16

    This type of issue brings out the hypocrisy in many of the posters. Many of these people in prior shows would have said, “don’t give NASA any money while people are starving in..” The Space program is what launches weather satellites, which gives people time to prepare for hurricanes and typhoons. YOu think an earthquake is bad? Imagine when earth gets hit by another massive asteroid.. Our ONLY chance of stopping that is why space technology, and we still cannot do anything to divert an asteroid. A massive asteroid could end most if not all life on Earth. Still want to starve NASA of funding because someone is starving somehwere given that the space program saves lives?

    • 31 patti in cape coral
      October 1, 2009 at 18:05

      @ Steve – “Still want to starve NASA of funding because someone is starving somehwere given that the space program saves lives?”

      If a choice had to be made between the two, yes, I still do.

  27. 32 Ibrahim in UK
    October 1, 2009 at 16:38

    Our knowledge of the Earth allows us to preduct where earthquakes are likely to occur, but not we still cannot predict the time and magnitude. The advantage that more advanced wealthy countries have is that they can mitigate the risk by enforcing building standards etc and response systems, so even when there is a “natural disaster”, it is not catastrophic. (But even rich nations get it wrong e.g. Orleans).

    In a perfect world, the rich and strong nations would help the weak and poor one without pre-conditions, and they in turn would accept the help and be greatful and actually use it appropriately. But the world is in conflict, mutual suspicion and corruption. Mankind strives to harm himself greater than any natural disaster.

  28. 33 Chintan in Houston
    October 1, 2009 at 16:48

    All these links of the news in the desciption of this topic, couldn’t WHYS have a link to donate money to help victims?
    Discussions; well those will continue. They need HELP and they need it NOW!!

  29. 34 Tom K in Mpls
    October 1, 2009 at 17:06

    There a several thing some people have touched on here that matter. First, wealth is not found on most of the planet. So odds are low that rich nations get hit. Next, it is hard to develop a rich nation in an area prone to natural disasters. I common laugh at the stupidity of people that insist on overpopulating southern California. It is prone to fires and earthquakes. Until recently they could find the money to quickly rebuild. Japan is much better at this.

    Last, having the money to develop city planning and recovery systems helps too.

  30. October 1, 2009 at 17:09

    Scientists are bending themselves backwards to find answers. So we should not be blaming them unduly. Instead we should support them in their giant efforts. Provide them with more funding as research costs money! It is easy to blame them but that would be wrong. True scientists are always trying to find the causes and we should back them to the hilt in their research.

  31. 36 Lourdes, México City
    October 1, 2009 at 17:26

    In my opinion, these thinks happend because we have abused so much of the nature and the nature has to be in balance, that´s why the quakes, tsunamies, hurracains and so happen.

  32. 37 Nate, Portland OR
    October 1, 2009 at 17:41

    I studied at and now work for a group (CMOP: http://www.stccmop.org) that works with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and others to produce tsunami evacuation maps for the Oregon coast: (http://www.nanoos.org/data/products/oregon_tsunami_evacuation_zones/index.php).

    We have a hydrodynamic model (SELFE) that we primarily use to model the Columbia River Estuary and also to other smaller estuary systems. For tsunamis we run simulations for various likely earthquake to tsunami scenarios. Basically we just increase the above-water area covered by our grids, do a model run in which the off-shore elevation over the fault line is raised by X meters, then watch the waves come crashing in. The results inform the labeling of hazard zones, evacuation routes, and building planning.

    So although we can’t know when earthquakes will happen and if they’ll cause a tsunami, we can get a good sense of what the wave will do once its rolling. We can also know how long we’ve got between earthquake and the wave hitting shore if the earthquake occurs in the expected area (i.e. along known fault lines).

  33. 38 Dave in Florida
    October 1, 2009 at 17:46

    Scientists are doing an excellent job in trying to predict natural disasters of all kinds. Unfortunately it is not a perfected science at this time, and when something happens, such as the recent earthquakes, they will be blamed for any damage.

  34. 39 Shannon in Ohio
    October 1, 2009 at 17:55

    Natural disasters are going to happen–I remain skeptical that humanity will ever be able to control them or predict them with pinpoint accuracy. Shouldn’t all of us focus on providing poorer countries/people with the infrastructure necessary to at least minimize the massive damage we have most recently witnessed?

    Here in the U.S. , despite the advanced warnings, over a thousand lives were lost in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina. The people who died were largely poor and lacked the resources to evacuate. Moreover, they were “ghettoized” into poorly serviced low-lying areas that left them completely vulnerable to the full wrath of of that storm.

  35. 40 nora
    October 1, 2009 at 18:08

    I doubt the good people of New Orleans would agree with a positive assessment of Western competence in regards to natural disasters.

    Nature sweeps away more poor than rich in most disasters, so the central problem lies in safe housing for people regardless of income, and ways to communicate with the unwired.

  36. 41 Elina
    October 1, 2009 at 18:09

    It seems to me that by now we do know quite a lot about the causes of these massive disasters, but, basically, they are events caused by processes which humans just can’t control. But I’d certainly like to know more about how we should response to them, how to improve the living conditions of the vast human populations that tend to be worst hit by them. I’m looking forward to hearing and learning more about the subject tonight.

  37. 42 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 18:12

    People need to understand that no place is perfectly safe. There are fault lines here on the east coast of the US, but earthquakes happen ever hundred or so thousands years. When it does, they are absolutely devestating. If you live on the west coast, you have much more frequent earthquakes, but given their frequency, it means that they may be strong, but not of the enormous magnitude a once every 100,000 years earthquake would be. An earthquake is the suddent release of built up pressure/energy from the plates trying to slide by. Once they slip, the earthquake happens.

    Here in the US, it’s practically crazy to live in the state of Florida, because it’s such a hurricane target. It isn’t very wide, so the storm could easily reach anywhere while still be fueled by either the atlantic or the gulf of mexico.. There’s no total safety anywhere.

  38. 43 Zach (Jamaica)
    October 1, 2009 at 18:15

    Scientists are not God, they can make logical predictions but to get it spot on takes years of development and research.

    They just have not figured out how to exactly predict earthquakes and tsunamis, unlike hurricanes for which forecasts are better as they are usually more frequent and survive for many days thus giving scientists a greater opportunity to collect more data to improve their ability in making better predictions.

  39. 44 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 18:18

    Of course humans cannot predict accurately when/where natural disasters are going to happen. We cannot even predict what other people do. Think you understand your girlfriend or wife? HAH.

  40. 45 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 18:25

    @ Patti

    are you sure? There are giant storms that periodically hit nations like Bangladesh that kill tens of thousands of people per storm, but with weather satellites, they can preduct the weather and move people to safer areas.

    • 46 patti in cape coral
      October 1, 2009 at 20:27

      Actually, no Steve, I’m not sure. I’m just trying to prioritize using my limited knowledge about disasters, weather systems, and the like. I have more personal knowledge about starvation and not having enough food, though. Well, maybe that’s not altogether true, being that I update my hurricane preparedness closet every three months since I’m in Florida. I would much rather take care of both of these problems at once, it’s just that if I had to choose which one to do first, I would choose the starvation problem.

  41. 47 VictorK
    October 1, 2009 at 18:30

    @Nora & Shannon: New Orleans is hardly a good example of ‘Western’ or American incompetence, for reasons that should be too obvious to need spelling out.

    @Chintan: good point. Better still: contribute on a regular basis to organisations like the Red Cross and Save the Children, not just when there are reports of disasters.

  42. 48 Adam - Colorado,USA
    October 1, 2009 at 18:35

    The reason these disasters effect the poorer parts of the world less is simply a matter of money. If you are a poor fisherman living on a pacific island, you can’t afford to move inland where there is a smaller threat of a tsunami and you can’t properly build a house that can withstand an earthquake. Even in the United States you have to look at what you can afford. It is possible to build an earthquake proof building, but it will usually just cost too much.

  43. 49 Peter_scliu
    October 1, 2009 at 18:35

    Governments should be responsible. Ensure all buildings are safe. Make sure populated area disasters proof . Reinforce grounds to prevent landslides. Like cuba make preparation to evacuate people and ensure adequate rescue apparatus are at hand.

    • 50 Randy, Vancouver BC
      October 1, 2009 at 23:00

      Peter, government is only as responsible as the people paying the bills, so when are people like you going to understand that this simplistic and obtuse reaction to every problem is about as fanciful as retiring on winnings from the Lottery. If the US government were a mere corporation, it would be forced into bankruptcy years ago. If the US government cannot properly rebuild the levies of New Orleans, how can you expect it to force the public to rebuild cities to an as yet undetermined earthquake code. You build to survive an 8, and you get hit with a 9+ (someone brought this up already–take a look at the comments). So you bankrupt thousands, ruin the economy, make a few hustlers and crooks rich as sin, and what do you have–nothing safer than what you started with. There is no safe place, or safe standard when it comes to earthquakes. Like I said in my own post, quoting philosopher Will Durrant: “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” Get used to it.

  44. 51 Zach (Jamaica)
    October 1, 2009 at 18:36

    We as people have come to expect scientists and technology to solve all our problems, but the sooner we accept that such is not the case, the better will be our preparation and recovery activities.

  45. 52 John in Salem
    October 1, 2009 at 18:47

    We know more about the San Andreas Fault in California than any other in the world. We know that an area north of Los Angeles called the Palmdale Bulge has risen 200 feet in the last 100 years, that there is over 20 feet of lateral shift built up and that this likely to produce a “great quake” of magnitude 9+ within the next 50 years, strong enough to throw buildings in the air, kill tens of thousands and cost hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up.
    And what do you get when you ask the average Angelino about it? “We’ll deal with it”.
    Which is true enough, but it’s the rest of us who will PAY for it.

  46. October 1, 2009 at 18:48

    i think something can be done not again 2 Earthquakes following each other… How can this be responded to?People need to understand that Scientists are not erything in our lives
    Peter Feer Msumari
    from Daystar university-Nairobi Kenya

  47. October 1, 2009 at 18:49

    i think something can be done not again 2 Earthquakes following each other… How can this be responded to?People need to understand that Scientists are not erything in our lives
    Peter Feer Msumari
    from Daystar university-Nairobi Kenya

  48. 55 George Williams Bangirana
    October 1, 2009 at 18:50

    Nature is Nature.
    It would be asking for too much from science to expect them to predict and possibly stop the disasters.
    Atmost they could help in mitigating the impact of these natural calamities.
    I dont want to believe that the developed world has to help the poor countries out of their misery.
    I live in Uganda and I have never came to accept the thinking that the West owes anyone a thing.
    We should take our own initiative, make our leaders accountable, so that we get the best out of them, or atleast something out of them.
    We actually need to be denied any aid and then we could find our way around.
    Scarcity is the mother of invention. People just need to find their way around how to live in tandem with nature in any environment.

  49. 56 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 18:51

    @ Peter

    How would governments make sure all buildings are safe? Midnite insepections, unnannounced? People have privacy rights. Governments telling you what you can and cannot build, where you can and cannot build, and then of course inspections for making sure the maintenance, as buildings don’t take care of themselves. How much state interference in your life are you willing to put up with?

  50. 57 John in Salem
    October 1, 2009 at 18:59

    The woman in New Orleans is wrong – the Weather Service saw Katrina coming. It was the Bush administration which chose not to issue evacuation alerts until it was too late.

    • 58 RightPaddock
      October 2, 2009 at 09:20

      @John in Salem – the neglect of the levees, the destruction of the natural barriers and over-dredging were the results of inaction & inappropriate action over many decades under successive federal, state, city and county administrations.

      I am not disputing for one moment that FEMA’s response was awful – but the situation should never have been allowed to eventuate in the first instance.

    • 59 Tom K in Mpls
      October 2, 2009 at 15:28

      Did you know the defective flood pumps sold to NO were sold by a company owned by Gov. Jeb Bush? Yes he is the brother of the president of the time.

  51. 60 Sean
    October 1, 2009 at 18:59

    I live in San Francisco and an internet professional. Although I realize that San Francisco has a high probability of suffering a major earthquake very soon, the high concentration of internet businesses here means that I have to reconcile my concerns with my ability to find employment.

    I think it is similar to my relatives in Jamaica who are fishermen. They live near the beach because this is where their livelihood is based. Jamaica now suffers yearly hurricanes and mudslides that are more severe than any other time in history, but the people have been tied to the land for generations so they would not think of moving.

    I think it is insensitive for others to somehow suggest that it is somehow asking for trouble by living in areas that are vulnerable to natural disasters. It is much more complicated than that.

    • 61 Tom K in Mpls
      October 2, 2009 at 15:32

      If they can make it work, fine. But they need to support their own recovery and not literally tax the nation. Just as of about 20 years ago, you can no longer qualify for national flood insurance if you build on the Mississippi flood plain. Some risks are too high to expect others to share.

  52. 62 steve
    October 1, 2009 at 19:00

    That’s rediculous.. The wealthy pay the vast majority of the income taxes. In the US, the top 1% of earners pay over 50% of the income taxes. It’s the socialists that only want the rich to pay taxes and nobody else having to. That’s fair as well? 50% of americans don’t pay any taxes at all. To turn a show about natural disasters into about communism/socialism is rather funny though.

    • 63 John Ridley
      October 1, 2009 at 21:28

      I had only a minute to present my point about willingness of governments in so-called developing countries to support citizens who become disaster victims. In my opinion, many such countries should be re-classified as “countries which are failing to develop because their rich citizens have set up regimes to ensure that they will never pay tax on their largely unregistered incomes”.
      As I said on the program, there were still shanty towns in and around Golcuk in Turkey inhabited by thousands of victims of the August 1999 earthquake several years after the disaster. The victims became a huge embarrassment to the Turkish government as it quickly became clear that there was no real will to help them.
      In ten years of living in Istanbul, I met many businessmen and women working in diverse sectors of Turkish commerce and industry who openly admitted to not paying tax on most of their incomes. Why should I pay tax when the politicians will only steal it? was a typical question when the subject of taxation came up. It was at this point that I would mention that, according to American law, not paying tax is treason and by that standard, both tax-stealing politicians and non-taxpaying business people are traitors to their countries.

      John Ridley

  53. October 1, 2009 at 19:13

    Its a natural phenomenon. Nature is responding to the existence of all thats happening around.
    Climate change existed with the creation of the earth and will continue. We only need to be more prepared to deal with it so that the consequences are not as collateral as what we have seen in recent years.

    Ancient civilizations never had our form of technology which is said to be the most advanced, yet they have bee better able to deal with natural disasters (per population mass) than we are now.

    The difference? Man in harmony with nature.
    Man was in tuned with all the signs in nature to make him safe and happy . Today man relies only on conjecture/ science at the expense of harmonizing.

  54. 65 Randy, Vancouver BC
    October 1, 2009 at 21:13

    Will Durant put it perfectly many many years ago. “Humanity lives by geological consent, subject to change without notice” We have to realize that humanity, in fact all life on this earth, and the entire biosphere is in fact thinner than the coat of paint on a baseball. The molten core of this planet generates a magnetic field that protects the fragile life from the deadly rays of our nuclear powered sun. The thin plates of hard rock and the oceans that cover 70% of this world are constantly changing. It is our own arrogance that leads us to believe we can change things here. We don’t like to see people snuffed out like insects by natural disasters, but we must accept that our lives depend on the very things that make this world so dangerous. Ultimately, as we overpopulate and pollute this world, we will have no choice but to move out into space–or become extinct. Even then, there will be disasters. Imagine huge orbiting colonies all over the solar system, suddenly wiped out when a passing star shakes up the Oort cloud and a swarm of rubble comes streaking into the solar system at 20 times the speed of a rifle bullet. We love being alive, and we rejoice in all forms of life; but we must accept that life is an unstable and fleeting dynamic event. And as Durant said, “subject to change without notice”.

  55. 66 Pam Toll, Park Forest IL USA
    October 1, 2009 at 21:43

    Few people are aware that now Science has the technology that storms can be seeded.. Hurricanes, Tornados , Severe thunderstorms.. Windstorms..I think its been known for Decades that earthquakes often are set off by underground blasting seeking oil and other fossil fuels.. Who can be held accountable.. The Flooding can occur from under the OCEAN BLASTING TOO.. no one seems to be NOTIFYING THE PUBLIC about this and therefore.. Like DR EVIL.. they can rule the world!

  56. 67 Tan Boon Tee
    October 2, 2009 at 02:35

    First, an 8.0 earthquake struck the South Pacific Ocean not far from Samoa a couple of days ago, and the resulting tsunami swept away hundreds of islanders. Yesterday, another 7.9 quake occurred near the central west coast of Sumatra, swallowing up at least 1000 villagers so far.

    The apparently increasing frequency of quakes and volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ring of Fire in the past several years is causing great concern to the people of the region. There appear signs of bigger ones on the way. One wonders if the governments in this part of the world will be adequately prepared for the life-threatening imminent events.

  57. 68 Bill
    October 2, 2009 at 07:57

    An earthquake is not a disaster.
    Collapsing buildings are the disaster.
    The pictures are all too familiar – heavy rooves and concrete floors perched on slender columns or inadequate walls.
    And what will happen now ? Clean-up and put up the same type of non-seismic structures again, until the next big quake in 50 years.
    Maybe Darwin was wrong after all !

    • 69 Tom K in Mpls
      October 2, 2009 at 15:36

      No, Darwin wasn’t wrong. Many species reproduce so quickly that only a global disaster can kill them off, no matter what happens. Rodents and cockroaches are as good at this as we are.

      • 70 Bill
        October 3, 2009 at 12:45

        Tom you’re missing the point.
        Rodents and cockroaches don’t construct shoddy buildings in earthquake zones. They’re not that stupid.

      • 71 Tom K in Mpls
        October 11, 2009 at 02:37

        Bill, my point is, it doesn’t matter how stupid people are, we will survive unless there is a global disaster. If a few survive anywhere, just like cockroaches and rodents, we will repopulate.

  58. October 2, 2009 at 08:08

    First the Indian Ocean.
    Now Indonesia & Samoa
    It seems pretty obvious to me that the next ‘point of f ailure will be San Francisco as the plates progessively move.
    As one point of stress is relieved by movement, it is then transferred in an east to west direction to the next fracture area

  59. October 2, 2009 at 09:33

    for sure!!!only GOD knows everything including the causes of such disasters to earth dwellers..we still even havent gone further with our technology to view scenes beyond the real time (LIVE)….therefore,warning systems cant work either if not only the natural ones like hearing,seeing etc.


  60. 74 Okech Patrick
    October 2, 2009 at 09:36

    Im biginning to wonder if God really exist,and if we are his creation, and if so , why should he painfully creat Life on earth in the first place then turn around to distroy it mercilesly using those dreaded natural calamities? God, you are a sadist.

    October 2, 2009 at 11:51

    Earthquake, Hurrican, etc are natural disaster, which humman beings cannot effectively control. This presupposes that indeed, nature cannot be cheated.
    Since we canot cheat nature, we should keep on trying to ameliorate the effect of such disasters.

    However, disasters like collapsing buildings, air crashes, etc are man made. Those found wanting or who have contributed in any way towards these disasters should be punished in accordance with respective national laws.

  62. 76 Kevin
    October 2, 2009 at 12:31

    @ Andrew in Australia and @ Gary, you guys are spot on. Just a little story to put our technological infancy into perspective – When scientists look for life in the universe they don’t hope to get pictures of little green men running around, they look for patterns of energy signals using radio telescopes. Using a three level advancement model developed by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev, a type 1 civilization can harness all the power of its home planet: type 2 can harvest all the power of its sun; and a type 3 can master the energy from its entire galaxy. We are currently about 0.72 on the scale, still reliant on fossil fuels, unable to do long term predictions, let alone control them. The good new is that if we don’t destroy ourselves over relatively petty differences, with the political will, determination and a common goal the advances can be exponential – like with computing power. Oh and by the way they haven’t found any such emissions as yet.

    • 77 Tom K in Mpls
      October 2, 2009 at 22:04

      Also consider the incredibly short time in the history of a technological species that it will use EM radiation for communication with enough power to escape the atmosphere? We are very close to going effectively all optical now. Optics are not scattered so they can not be ‘found’ like EM.

  63. 78 Kevin,UK
    October 2, 2009 at 16:07

    Though we can make a rough estimate of when a natural event occurs, it’s not an exact science. It is perhaps more important that we use our common sense to avoid and prepare for events like these when they happen. Earlier tsunamis have demonstrated that building on areas at sea-level close to the sea or by rivers is probably not a good idea. Similarly, erecting buildings too close together in earthquakes zones leaves survivors with little or no safe space to escape from falling debris or for rescuers to set up a base for rescue operations. The fires in California demonstrated that much of the woodland near houses needs to be removed to create firebreaks. The melting of the polar ice caps is going to mean rising sea-levels but I wonder how many countries have updated their coastal defences to cope with a 100ft rise in the sea level? Natural disasters are a serious issue to which we need to have global common sense solutions.

  64. 80 Jim Newman
    October 4, 2009 at 03:46

    Hello again
    Disasters are the result of natural cyclic changes and kill a lot of people. A disaster is by definition unpreventable and unexpected. It is also a very human concept – can only happen to humans.
    In fact human overpopulation could be called a disaster in the making.
    In nature there is no such thing as disaster, only change.

  65. 81 T Mustoe (Mr)
    October 4, 2009 at 21:02

    Is science the new King Canute in this regard?

  66. 82 JanB
    October 5, 2009 at 13:50

    I think there’s a simple reason why natural disasters kill so many Indonesia and Italy as opposed to Japan and the US (Katrina being an exception, but in that case many people simply refused evacuation.)

    The C word (corruption) explains it all: buildings, warning systems and protective barriers are not build to spec because of corrupt government officials and contractors. It is therefore pointless to keep sending billions in aid unless the aid is accompanied by inspectors. Of course the local officials who see their shadow incomes threatened will be quick to denounce outside inspectors as “imperialist” or “neo-colonialist”, this only goes to show how little value they attach to human life.

  67. 83 viola
    October 5, 2009 at 23:21

    Natural disasters do and should keep us humble about our place in the universe. We are wee little mousies who can only do all we can to ensure survival. The more we learn, the more we can protect ourselves from the forces of nature. Hopefully, we will continue to adaptively evolve to successfully meet what comes our way. Science and helping our neighbors is adaptive behavior and I believe we must continue in this direction.

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