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October 10, 2005

Natural Disasters

The horrific aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and the landslides and mudslides which have followed Hurricane Stan in Guatemala have once again brought home the consequences of living in areas prone to natural events. The death toll in the earthquake seems to grow by the hour, and I will not be surprised if it eventually approaches the sort of proportions reached by the tsunami last Boxing Day. The sheer scale of the quake and the extent of the damage is almost beyond comprehension, yet it is a perfectly natural force and event.

Our prayers need to be offered to support those trapped and injured, those that have flung themselves into the breach to carry out the difficult and often dangerously thankless task of search and rescue, and with those who must now try to come to terms with the loss of family, friends and their homes and livelihoods. As some writers have said, nature is indeed red in tooth and claw, and the natural forces which shape and mould our planets surface, or it's atmosphere, are not forces we can control. I listened with mounting shock this morning to a news broadcaster saying that one vilage in Guatemala, now buried under forty feet of mud and rubble, may be declared a "mass grave" and all rescue efforts have been stopped. However, when you consider it carefully, this is not as callous as it sounds. Mud is notoriously unstable and difficult to work in, rescue or survival for those buried in it, almost impossible - and unsurvivable. Better then, to mark it and take steps to ensure it does not happen again.

Sadly, I suspect that very soon, the survivors will be rebuilding in a similar location simply because they have no other choice.

When you consider the death toll from the earthquake a similar picture emerges. Too many people, too little land that can be used to support them and a geological landscape that is a major subduction zone between the Indian Continental tectonic plate and the Asian plate. There is a reason the Himalayas are so high - its all about the fact that Asia is riding up and over the Indian plate! It follows that if you put a lot of people into buildings built on a faultline of this magnitude (or the San Andreas fault in Cailfornia), if you get a big quake, its going to kill lots of people. Quakes of this magnitude are not new in this area, they happen fairly frequently, but until some 50 years ago, there were not the same numbers of people affected by them and the traditional building structures did not concentrate people the way modern accommodation blocks, office blocks and shopping centres do.

Make no mistake, what has happened/is happening in Pakistan is a human tragedy, what is heartening is the swiftness of the response from every corner of the world. If we can all learn something from this, it is that we are all, under the skin, human beings, God's creatures, and when one of us is hurt or injured, we are all hurt. As John Donne famously put it, "if a promontory is washed into the sea, Europe is the less". If a town in the America's is buried in mud, or an entire region of the Indian sub-contnent is devastated by an earthquake, we are all, in some way affected and therefore involved.

Our prayers are needed for the living, the injured and the dying, but we must be practical as well. Now is a good time to reach into our pockets and do what we can to send the aid that is vital to save the lives of the thousands who are homeless and without livelihood. Now is the time to show the true meaning of "Christian Charity" or charity by any other name, now is a time for action which can do much to promote the true "brotherhood of man".

Posted by The Gray Monk at October 10, 2005 02:02 PM

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