Not such a natural disaster

Described as ‘the first great natural disaster of the year’, the wave of flooding that hit the Asia-Pacific region in January 2009 led to the displacement of at least 100,000 people, reports United Press International. Although tropical storms are a frequent occurrence in the area, this year’s flooding was unusual because so many countries – Fiji, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia among them – were affected simultaneously. In the Mindanao region of the Philippines, the damage reached ‘humanitarian crisis proportions’, according to local officials, and in Fiji a state of emergency was declared.

While the non-stop rains caused rivers to burst their banks, critics claim that the series of floods cannot simply be blamed on the weather. Garbage pollution, poor infrastructure, urban development, deforestation and ineffective flood control programmes all played their part. In addition, the governments’ failure to realize that neighbouring countries were being hit at the same time meant that no regionwide programme of control or assistance was put in place.

The flooding occurred mainly in provincial areas and with the main economic and political centres unaffected, neither the media nor the governments felt the need to sound the alarm. But the internet was alive to the unfolding events, and many bloggers expressed their anger at their governments’ failure to act. As one Malaysian contributor explained: ‘Many of us who have gone through so much hardship hate ourselves for electing, term after term, ministers who have done nothing for the people. Politicians argue that flooding is a natural disaster, but [it isn’t] all the time.

mag cover This article is from the March 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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