Disasters arise when trying to grasp a complete understanding

Disasters are defined as “a sudden calamitous event that bring about great
damage, loss, or destruction” (1) The key element
in this definition is the word sudden. How “long” does a disaster last? Are the
effects equal for everyone affected in the area? Why are some events considered
to have more recognition and others not so much? Are just few of the questions
that may arise when trying to grasp a complete understanding about disasters. Disasters
are mainly of two types, natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides. And
man-made disasters such as war and oil spills. They often vary in the quantity and
quality of the damage caused however in most cases the losses exceed the people’s
ability to recover in a small amount of time. Natural disasters are inevitable,
and as Bankoff mentioned they are “nobody’s fault”. Once a disaster pummels into
an area it leads to a massive destruction and loss of life.

          One of the aspects I find the most interesting
about the Merriam Webster’s definition is the use of the word sudden. Utilizing
that word will in most cases disregard many horrific events that have taken
place throughout history. Some of the prime examples are the Rwandan and
Bosnian genocide and the most notorious one of all is the Holocaust during
WWII. These events have brought upon much torment to the world, yet are not
considered a “disaster” by general terms.  As Bankoff mentions in his reading
we cannot continue to categorize disasters as “Acts of God” (7) We know nature
is an uncontrollable and technology can fail. For me, the main discrepancy
between natural and man-made disasters is the fundamental component of
human ambition. This is the aftermath of poorly managed man-made structures that
typically end up costing huge amounts of environmental, human and material
damage. This in a clear example of what happened during Katrina. The time scale
of this disaster was not only measured in days and months but rather years that
it has taken the city and the people of New Orleans to get back on their feet
after such a horrifying experience.  Hurricanes
have been carefully researched for many years. It is somewhat unexpected that
in one of the most developed societies of the world the cause for this disaster
might have ultimately been triggered by human neglect. And as we saw in Spike
Lee’s video many people hold the Army Corp of Engineers accountable for the sudden
break in the Levees given that they were supposed to shield the city of New
Orleans.

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          I truly relish
the comparison drawn between Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks in
Birklands article. It is yet another great illustration of what we have been
discussing in class. Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks are one of the most
tragic disasters in American history. “Hurricane Katrina is the deadliest
hurricane and most expensive natural disaster in American history. Around 1,800
people lost their lives during this catastrophe. And bringing in a total of
over 160 billion US dollars’ worth of damages.”  (4) It is extremely hard to devise a so called
“duration” of these events given that each victim handles the effects
differently. On one side Katrina shows how disaster management response teams
were inefficient and unprepared for the magnitude of this event. Many of the victims
of hurricane Katrina disaster waited multiple days to be evacuated, resulting
in a high level of traumatic experiences. “Mayor Ray Nagin admitted that early
mandatory evacuation could have helped save more lives in New Orleans. When
flooding started in New Orleans the response was delayed. There was no one
available to help the victims of Katrina when the hurricane hit New Orleans.” (5)
However, when looking at the 9/11 attacks, it is clear that the disaster was
meticulously planned and coordinated carefully. The time scale of this event is
somewhat similar to Katrina’s given that the site itself took months to clean
and the New York City to this day, is still recovering from this attack. Response
teams for the Pentagon and World Trade Center arrived at each site within a
question of minutes offering aid to those affected. Analyzing the vulnerability
of these people and the mental harm caused by hurricane Katrina and the
September 11 attacks, helps to better understand the agony most of these people
go through. “The influential book At Risk:
Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability, and Disasters (Blaikie et al.
1994), which looked at disasters and their impacts in a global context, laid out
a framework for conceptualizing vulnerability as rooted in unsustainable development
practices, social conditions and trends that diminish the coping capacity of at-risk
populations” (2) Birkland is trying to point out that those most susceptible to
the disproportionate social impacts are the poor. Yet few political changes are
made to address this issue. In the case of Katrina, the poor were much more vulnerable given that they have the inability to
afford repairs, refurbish their homes and when housed in government or public
projects they were mistreated, adding more misery to their current state of
mind. “Classic sociological research on disasters emphasized the
pro-social and adaptive dimensions of disaster-related behavior. Studies
consistently documented such patterns as widespread helping behavior among
community residents, the emergence of new groups focusing on victim and
community needs, increases in social cohesion, the convergence of volunteers
and material resources into disaster areas” (5) As we saw in Spike Lee’s
documentary and in the short video from Puerto Rico not only do these events
cause physical devastation but they destroy the psyches of the people who have
survived these tragedies. Individuals and communities must find a balance
between anxiety and preparedness, in order to go on with productive and
fulfilling lives. “Where was the help when New Orleans was flooding? Who was
there to help the citizens from drowning?” (3) We can clearly notice the impacts
of Katrina on highly vulnerable groups such as the poor, young children, pregnant women, widows and
elderly people.

          In
conclusion to handle the situation efficiently we need proper disaster
management teams which can take charge as soon as the disaster strikes. To some
extent I realized that we, the human population, are not ready to deal effectively
with disasters. The challenges we face are constantly haunting our present in
regard to these disasters. These challenges continue to test our character and
power of will. History illustrates a long line of failures in responding to
these events, yet at the same time we are able to learn and improve upon our
mistakes. The 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina were both a wakeup call. The
word disaster can be analyzed from different viewpoints but in order to record
and study the aftermaths of these events we must define them with a neutral
standpoint. Trying to illustrate what occurred is something that every survivor
will process differently and we must be willing to move on and cherish our
current achievements in order to help prevent future mishaps.