How Natural Disasters Lead to Humanitarian Crises and How We Can Prevent Them
Natural disasters are responsible for the deaths of thousands and the breaching of basic human rights every year. Their appearance on international television has desensitised people to the horrors they unleash on their victims. The destruction caused by a natural disaster – tsunami, earthquake, mudslide, etc – does not go away as soon as the news channels stop broadcasting. Those affected by these types of phenomenon must rebuild their lives, often with nothing to help them.
Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster to happen in Puerto Rico on record. It killed sixty-four people on the island, but the number of those who died from storm related complications is far higher. The state of Florida, received an estimated 300,000 Puerta Rican refugees as of January 2018. In the wake of the hurricane, all 3.4 million residents were left without power, less than half the island had running water and there was at least $90 billion worth of damages to repair. This is a serious violation of the Puerta Ricans basic human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Article Twenty-Five, grants every individual the right to a standard of living that includes food, clothing, housing and medical care as well as any of the social services necessary.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is not the only place in the world where these basic human rights are not being met in the wake of a natural disaster. On 14 August 2017 a mudslide occurred in Sierra Leone. A horrifying 1,141 people have been declared dead or missing. The mudslide left a further 3000 people homeless. The initial response was overwhelming with numerous countries donating money and providing aid to the country. On 15 November however, the government closed its emergency camps, leaving 500 families homeless, despite promising to provide new homes for them.
In August 2017, a monsoon in Bangladesh, India and Nepal killed over 1000 people and affected six million others. Over half a million houses were damaged and 77,272 houses were destroyed. Hundreds of shelters were established to house those whose homes were destroyed but problems still arose. Sanitation presented a major problem with 13,035 diseases reported that are water based, and thus were clearly a result of the severe flooding. Access to the affected regions was made impossible by the disaster, preventing immediate aid from arriving to the flooded zones.
Places such as Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh have all fallen victim to natural disasters that led to large-scale humanitarian crises. Yet this need not be the case in the future. If countries were better prepared to cope with natural disasters, these human rights breaches wouldn’t be possible. The United Nations have pledged, through the Sustainable Development Goals, to work towards “sustainable cities and communities”. They aim specifically to reduce the death tolls of natural disasters, as well as the economic losses they cause. How they plan on achieving this however, is not made clear. In 2015, Robert Glasser, the then Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the head of UNISDR, claimed that “reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change” is the key to saving lives in natural disasters.
While this is true to an extent, the UN and other governing bodies, must recognise that humans can impact natural disasters. It was inevitable that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Yet it was the development of the New Orleans’ wetlands that increased its scale. The development removed the natural barrier, thus enabling the hurricane to directly hit the city’s populated areas.
Therefore, communities must be better equipped to cope with natural disasters. This means not focusing solely on climate change, but also on creating (and maintaining) barriers and defences from natural disasters. There needs to a series of systems in place that can be initiated as soon as a disaster has passed and people need food, water, shelter and medical care. Furthermore, people need to be educated about how what they do impacts their environment. This is the only way to prevent large scale humanitarian crises such as what is happening in Puerto Rico, from ever happening again.
Nia is a student at Maynooth University where she is studying English, Spanish, history and classics for her Bachelor’s Degree. She has volunteered to help combat loneliness amongst the elderly, to raise money for various charitable causes as well as work to raise awareness for the Irish language.
Nia believes in performing one random act of kindness daily, such as giving a generous tip or complimenting a stranger. Her hobbies include going to the cinema, travelling, creating bad puns, bullet journals, and slowly making her way through her bucket list.