Disaster Management and World Power By: Mommal Mushtaq - Articles Detail
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Disaster Management and World Power  Back
By: Mommal Mushtaq
Mommal Mushtaq

In a little span of only eight years from 2005 to 2013, the American nation had faced three natural disaster storms: first, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, second, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and third, recent blizzards of February 10, 2013. At least, 1,8,33 people died in the first, 285 in the second and 10 in the third.
Both the Hurricanes of 2005 and 2012 surged in the months of August and October, respectively. In 2005, the national economy suffered $81.2 billion and in 2012, $71.4 billion damages in USA. These two natural havocs causing colossal loss to life and property generated wider political implications, raising real issues of our contemporary world as how governments behave in emergency and people react during it. Hurricane Katrina-2005 surged in USA only eight months after President George W. Bush had been re-elected, causing breaches in protective banks and floodwalls along with coasts of New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama. The great deluge exposed flaws on the part of designers and builders including US Army Corps Engineers responsible for quality control and maintenance besides inability of political leaders and of the residents to manage the collective disaster, surfaced greatly. Incidents of murders, rapes, thefts, lootings and carjacking and of even shootings between police and the residents occurred in the affected areas as relief efforts.
Post-disaster period showed utter failure on the part of federal, state and local governments, instantly, resulting in resignation of the Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Apart from material and institutional collapses, Hurricane Katrina appeared to be a great reflector of economic disparities, racial and class prejudices, which provided ample evidences for law-suits against G.W. Bush administration and US Army Corps of Engineers. Amazing coincidence as it was that Hurricane Katrina devastated the only world power at a time when its federal government, national army and strategists were , awfully busy in the commerce of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everlasting consequences of all these natural and man-made absurdities were a drastic depletion in the vote bank of Republicans, at a larger context.   
Timing of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was its another significance as this tropical cyclone engulfed USA only one week before the general elections, though it was the costliest Atlantic hurricane, only second to Hurricane Katrina. Diameter of its powerful wind covered 1.800 km, reaching seven countries in the region. Death toll only in USA reached 132, leaving millions without electricity, portable water and food. Gravity of the disaster forced US President to suspend his election campaign in order to ensure fruition of relief and rehabilitation efforts. A bitter fall-out of Hurricane Katrina on the Republicans enlightened the Democratic President Obama preferred his personal victory to national need, direly felt across the country. During a difficult time of exigency, Mr. Obama did what G.W. Bush failed to do, and he, too, refrained to do what his predecessor did and faced the nemesis. Thus, Mr. Obama's brilliance of mind, departure from the past, deeper conviction and non-racial commitment changed the path of US national history, converting challenge into opportunity.                   
Unlike Hurricane Katrina during which the vital fabrics of the state and society broke down, simultaneously, the USA state and society showed a high degree of cohesion as the state unveiled her motherly face and the society behaved as faithful children do. Verily, number, volume and density of human population severely affected by the hurricane were greater than that of Hurricane Katrina. Still, all kind of crimes were held in abeyance even in the darkness when millions of people were without electricity, water and food. Hurricane Sandy wrote a new chapter in the history of USA, previously missing, altogether. Since Hurricane Sandy, USA state and society, quite heterogeneous in relation to their structure of power, economic and social biases, look leading rest of the states and societies facing challenges by hostile Nature.
Last but not least, Winter Storm Nemo or Blizzard affected in February 7, 2013, Northeastern United States and some parts of Canada, causing 42 inches snowfall during which at least 10 people were killed and 7,0000 faced prolonged electricity break-down. Governors of many states including Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York declared state of emergency, imposing ban on mobility and transportation on the roads of severely hit area. The violators, if any, were to be forewarned with a penalty of one year imprisonment and/ or a five hundred dollar fine, however, emergency vehicles, hospital workers, or media were exempted. As relief efforts looked evident, the affected people voluntarily preferred to stay inside their homes, though without electricity and others essential commodities. Prompt reaction by state organs in response to emergency and utmost cooperation from the people marvelously facilitated the relief efforts, averting further loss to life and property. Although, the recent blizzard in USA was of lesser kind, if compared with the above referred two hurricanes, yet the government response in hand with public cooperation for strictest law abidance redefined the human capacity to deter human vulnerability in natural disaster.     
 In social sciences at higher degree academia, the subject of disaster management has attained a vital stature to such an extent that it forms important part of development studies, economics and of even public administration text books. However, in the country like Pakistan, which is of course 5th country worst hit by natural disasters, the terms "capacity" and "vulnerability" are not fully understood in relation to their correlations. For instance, it is rather established theory that "Capacity is not an opposite of vulnerability" because human conscious cannot change the course of nature, thus, man's vulnerability in nature's animate arrangement is inevitable. Two hurricanes and one blizzard in USA negate this theory because government's swift response to emergency in disaster and people's well-coordinated behavior, self-control and refrain from commissioning of inhuman misdeeds in human vulnerability surely look contemporary definition of "capacity" and "vulnerability" in disaster management that can deter whatever is, otherwise, inevitable during exigency.
(The author is a student of MS Development Studies at SZABIST, Islamabad and can be reached at mommalmushtaq@gmail.com)