Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Article Review: "Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal" by Junot Diaz in the Boston Review

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, in the May-June 2011 Boston Review writes on his take on "natural disaster", a viewpoint that I believe many of us will intuitively understand.
"Natural disasters" are natural occurrences that become societal disasters. Geographer Neil smith writes that "there's no such thing as a natural disaster" and reminds us that "the difference between who lives and who dies is to greater or lesser extent a social calculus". The magnitude of a disaster (not the magnitude of  say an earthquake, because an earthquake without fatalities is not a diasater) is determined "by a series of often-invisible societal choices that implicate more than just those being drowned or buried in rubble".
The 2004 Asian tsunamis were so lethal because the mangrove swamps that are natural barriers (best tsunami protectors) were previously dynamited to facilitate shipping esp. Nagapattinam in India where hotel construction and shrimp farming devastated the swamps.
Hurricane Katrina was a social disaster not only in the ruthless marginalization of the  African-American community but also in their abandonment. Before the hurricane, "the Bush administration had sold off hundreds of square miles of wetlands to developers, as well as gutted the New Orleans Corps of engineers by 80%"
Haiti, of course, is a prime example of a social disaster waiting to happen. A century and a half of abuse,  neglect and exploitation by colonial powers left it vulnerable to the slightest tremor, never mind a magnitude of 7.
Haiti is our canary in the mine shaft, a nasty harbinger of things to come. Our collective rape of our environment ( ), the ever widening chasm between the haves and have-nots, around the world and even within our local community, is leaving us vulnerable to one of many natural occurences. The whole world is, piece by piece, becoming a Haiti and the speed of decline of any one place is a function of it's wealth. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis take away the thin top soil of civilized society and reveal the underlying political structures: the injustices, the corruption, and the inequalities. Money and wealth buy some time for some people.
(I think of the countless towns and cities in the Philippines with inadequate everything: improper sanitation, inadequate to non-existent medical facitlities, lax building code enforcement, lack of emergency protocols, etc. etc.).
And yet, Diaz  holds out hope in the resiliency of the human spirit. But is it enough? Do we have time?
Against my optimistic persuasion, I conclude that there are no acts of a god... there are only stupid indifferent people who manage governments, run our religions, and man our institutions, abetted by an indifferent populace ignorant of history.

No comments:

Post a Comment