Facing Nature’s Fury

The Pakistan earthquake continues a streak of shocking natural disasters during the past year: the Indian Ocean tsunami, killer droughts in Niger and other countries in Africa, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Central American mudslides, and Portugal’s wildfires.

These events are unrelated, and humankind’s vulnerability to natural hazards is as old as our species. Yet there are also commonalities – and warnings to us all: we are not prepared for these massive shocks, more of which are certain to come.

Massive population growth has exposed vast numbers of people to new kinds of extreme vulnerability. There are now 6.5 billion people on the planet, almost four billion people more than fifty years ago. Current trends, according to the United Nations, will push the world’s population up to around 9.1 billion by 2050.

As population rises, billions of people crowd into Earth’s vulnerable areas – near coastlines battered by storms and rising sea levels, on mountainsides susceptible to landslides and earthquakes, or in water-stressed regions plagued by drought, famine, and disease. Typically, the poorest of the poor are pushed into the riskiest places to live and work – and also to die when natural catastrophes strike.

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