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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Natural disasters: Are we at the mercy of the elements?
Asia, Europe and Africa have all been hit by extreme weather conditions this year.

Southern Africa has suffered widespread drought while China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and parts of Europe have seen serious flooding cause severe damage and deaths in many areas.

At the Earth Summit in Johannesburg next week, environmentalists will call upon Western developed countries to clean up their act, arguing that much of the devastation has been caused by human impact on the planet.

The intensity and increasing frequency of climate disasters are creating a demand for preventative measures to be brought about to protect people and places.

But the poor countries which suffer most of the consequences can't afford these costly solutions.

What can we realistically do to protect ourselves from the forces of nature? Is it time for a new approach to disaster management? And who should pay for the damage caused by natural disasters?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Rather than constantly fretting about nature's revenge, we could better spend the money helping those countries affected by natural disasters

Jason, Santiago, Chile
The Earth's climate has changed constantly throughout its history, and was once a lot warmer, with average temperatures even higher than those projected for the next 100 years. Rather than constantly fretting about nature's revenge, and spending billions on the Kyoto Treaty (which won't work anyway), we could better spend the money helping those countries affected by natural disasters. Unfortunately, nowadays it seems that people are too eager to indulge in this fashionably atavistic reverence of nature, whilst criticising anything that looks remotely like human progress.
Jason, Santiago, Chile

We humans are so stupid. We will not face the problem of the destruction of the very planet we live on until half of us are dead. Until the suffering we inflict on ourselves becomes painful to the powerful and rich leaders of the big corporations that own us all, nothing will change. As long as we elect short sighted leaders we will get what we deserve.
Elizabeth Borin, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

The future of our planet rests with each of us. As much as I would love my government to create progressive environmental laws, I understand that it is up to me to be responsible for my own actions. With time and individual leadership, governments will come around to it.
James, USA

Blaming environmental problems on the US is getting really old

Laxz Blackwell, USA
I hear people from Europe and Asia blaming America for global warming. People need to study other countries and see how much impact they have on nature. Blaming environmental problems on the US is getting really old. For example, people in China still use aerosols. The American government has banned all aerosols use in every home and business in the US - to help our problem with the ozone. We are taking action against a cleaner environment, I guess some people are too dazed too see it.
Laxz Blackwell, USA

The problem is that we humans are not ready to accept the fact that we are the ones giving our planet problems, not the Earth giving us problems! We should always look at the earth as if she is a being that is still living with her chemistry still functioning. The way out of this mess is to have an international body that will regulate our activities to ensure her survival.
Olawuyi Damilola, Abuja, Nigeria

The US is constantly being hit by extreme weather conditions. We just deal with it! We have flooding here in the Midwest right now after an incredibly hot July, with drought conditions. The usual tornadoes abound in the plains states, and it's coming up to hurricane season in the Atlantic. It's been this way for decades.
Marion, UK in USA

To Marion, UK in USA, of course the USA is regularly hit by natural disasters. But the impact of a hurricane on a Florida resort cannot be compared to a similar natural phenomenon in a poor country. A mud hut cannot withstand a hurricane like an American-built home. Poverty is what separates the two. Not every country has the means to "deal with it". Across the world, more needs to be done by everyone on a local level. Less finger-pointing and more action is needed.
Zoe, Ottawa, Canada

I can't help wondering whether our politicians have set their priorities correctly

Vinay Chitnis, Poona, India
If only the developing countries realise that their genuine needs will be solved by the better utilisation of their meagre resources to tackle natural disasters, will we be able to cope up with natural disasters. Being born in a country where the economy has to still rely on the vagaries of the monsoons after 50 years of independence, I can't help wondering whether our politicians have set their priorities correctly.
Vinay Chitnis, Poona, India

We must collectively take responsibility for the degradation of the entire planet, and conservation and sharing of resources between rich and poor countries will be of no use if the population continues to grow at an explosive rate. Family planning is absolutely essential along with conservation to conserve the planet.
Nancy, Savannah USA

Greed has created excessive pollution. We have lost a portion of the ozone layer. We have global warming. We have a large area of particle haze. The recent floods are a wake-up call to drastically limit pollution.
Roger Perry, Bangkok, Thailand (British Expat)

It really is our choice

Graham, Warsaw, Poland
Consumer choice will decide the fate of the planet. The weather will become less and less hospitable unless we only buy green products. It really is our choice. Not governments or pop stars - us. The consumer's spending power could force a clean up almost instantly. Only that will stabilise the screwed-up weather.
Graham, Warsaw, Poland

We have the tendency to use nature as much as we want and as fast as we can without thinking that it is limited and must be shared for future generations. Worst than that, especially in modern countries, they have so much waste and don't conserve natural resources at all. Each one of us is the problem.
Irene Bravo, Philippines

Many of these disasters are man-made and unless every person on earth promises unto themselves that he or she will leave this earth a little better than they inherited it, we will continue to have floods and droughts.
Vivek Manchanda

As statistics say, 20% of the world population uses 80% of the earth's resources and 80% of the population depends on remainding 20%. But Mother Nature seems to punish us all, wherever we live.
Nathan, Denmark

Serious effort and not rhetoric is needed

Nanjundiah Giridhar, USA
Natural disasters, we have to understand, are but just one single aspect of a much larger scale of ecological disturbance. The climatic phenomena on the great landmasses of this planet are determined by various factors. The only generalisation is that they will suffer a similar fate in terms of flooding or famine at one point or another. Serious effort and not rhetoric is needed to even have a hope of introducing some predictability into the situation.
Nanjundiah Giridhar, USA

The US pollutes far more per head than any other nation in the world. Yet, it is also economically and politically invincible. It refuses to listen to anybody else in relation to pollution and its risks. The poor countries pollute much less per head and are unable to stop their polluting because of financial reasons.
Somnath Mukhopadhyay, UK

There is nothing that can be done against the forces of nature. The UN and developed countries should help other nations develop the infrastructure to predict severe weather conditions so that proper measures can be taken. That is the best way they can help. Human power can never take over natural forces.
Pravesh Saria, Nepal/USA

It's our greed alone that is destroying this planet

Amit, India/ USA
Environmental protection is our collective responsibility. Countries that are self reliant and have a higher level of awareness should help the poorer countries. Man should know to let go of his greed. It's our greed alone that is destroying this planet and with it our very lives.
Amit, India/ USA

The environmental catastrophe which appears to be in the making would seem to be a crisis of far greater consequence than anything we have seen before. Yet, the leaders of the world are apathetic about it. They are so concerned about the short-term so-called economic fallout that they are afraid to take responsibility. They point fingers at each other as if this is someone else's problem. What a pity.
S. Chatterjee, USA

Year after year repeated flooding in the East and desert-like conditions in the West of India only tell us that past and present governments have not taken measures to channel much needed water from the areas of plenty to the areas of deficiency.
Arvind, India/ USA

We do not have any experts, equipment or training to cope with these disasters

Mashuk Kabir, Bangladesh
Our country needs monitory support to deal with any environmental disasters such as floods and drought and earthquakes. We are a country 50 times smaller than the USA with half the population. We are a frequent victims of flood, drought, cyclones, Dengu and disease. With no economy there is nothing we can do. The entire country of 140 million people does not have any experts, equipment or training to cope with these disasters. There are many talented people in this world who know what's going on with the weather and I think if we knew the reasons we could prevent it. It's a very serious issue.
Mashuk Kabir, Bangladesh

To anyone who has grown up, or lives, in a developing country, the idea that natural forces are mightier than human ones will not seem very strange. We have had to live with it for centuries.
Rustam Roy, England (ex-India)

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30 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
13 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
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