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Historical Perspective and Disasters as a Process

The past can be treated as an important source of information about the way systems will respond in the future. Still, it cannot be considered a perfect source since it is impossible that a situation will occur again with every single little detail. Nevertheless, it will be logical to believe that lessons should be learned from the disasters that occurred in the past; these lessons should suggest remedial actions that may be determined and applied in the future when a similar case occurs. It often happens that this information about the disaster is incomplete and lacks valuable details because not all underlying causes of the accidents are taken into account. Organizational and social causes of disasters are often underestimated, though they are predominant in many cases; instead of this, investigators pay special attention to the technical causes of tragedies. In addition, the organizations, the duty of which is to carry out public inquiry recommendations, very often limit their actions to those who are connected with the disaster directly, ignoring the fact that the recommendations might be useful for a larger social circle.

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It must be mentioned that disaster should not be treated as an event, “process” is the word that gives us a better understanding of its essence and the possible outcome of it may be a natural disaster (Oliver-Smith 2002, p. 23).

Considering the multidimensionality of the possible effects produced by a disaster, it should be analyzed on different levels, because it “affects every aspect of human life, impacting environmental, social, economical, political, and biological conditions”, but the analyses of disasters are mostly one-sided depending on the discipline that performs the study (Oliver-Smith 2002, p. 23).

First of all, any natural or technological disaster should be analyzed on the social level, because disasters are socially constructed and experienced in different ways by individuals or groups of individuals (Oliver-Smith 2002, p. 24). The social response to a disaster throws light on human nature and the peculiar features of society. For instance, speaking about the Philippines, a picturesque example of social responsibility to the disaster is that over time people have come to terms with the disaster and the hazards are no longer regarded as abnormal situations, they are treated as a constant feature of life (Bankoff 2003, p. 152).

Speaking about past perspective of the specific disaster of volcanic eruption, the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption should be analysed, continuing the abovementioned theme of the Philippines. The great damages caused by the most violent eruption of the 20th century were caused by natural factor of five hundred years of dormancy of the volcano and social factor of human being unprepared to cope with the catastrophe. Lack of regulation and absence of preparedness to overcome the subsequent results of the disaster are the signs of high vulnerability.

Vulnerability is understood by Oliver-Smith (2002, p.24) as “the characteristics of a person or group in terms of their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the impact of natural hazard”. Different forms of vulnerability are identified by the scientists: “natural, physical, economic, social, political… ideological…” etc. (Oliver-Smith 2002, p. 25). The supporters of the theory of vulnerability claim that disasters are produced due to combination of social situation and environmental impact as was shown by the example with the volcanic eruption. The particular tragedy took lives of about nine hundred people by the catastrophe itself and many people died of starvation later, because the land was damaged by ash and as a consequence did not give harvest and, moreover, the eruption caused massive death of cattle.

In connection with the example of the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption, processes to learn from can be defined. Both historical evidence of damages and current vulnerability must be taken into account and the following measures must be taken: the mechanism of evacuation should be improved, possibilities of hospitalization of people should be developed, and the possibilities of supplying people with food must be established. The necessary improvements in the sphere of building should be taken.

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Speaking about economic response, it should be mentioned that disasters may bring both damages and benefits from the prospective of economics. Among damages the following may be mentioned: devastation of agriculture and means of communication (roads) and heavy expenses caused by the necessity of building dams that controlled lahars. All these factors certainly caused deep economic crisis.

Analysing the disaster on a technological level, it should be mentioned that there are no known anthropogenic causes of volcanic eruptions, but it is evident that technological development is necessary if not to control the eruptions, then to predict them at least with the highest level of reliability.

The natural disasters should also be considered on geographical and environmental levels. During many centuries a man has been using the natural recourses for his own profit and the negative consequences of this exploitation of nature are unquestionable. Nowadays there exists scientific point of view that natural disasters are mere attempts of nature to establish the necessary balance.

Among problems that arise in connection with volcanic eruptions, their uncontrolled nature, that can observed in the course of history, must be mentioned. People must remember that a man is not powerful enough and will never be able to get the full control of nature. This is why we should try to cooperate with nature in order to get benefit and avoid disasters when possible.

Among processes to learn from, the consequences of natural disaster may be mentioned: aerosol emissions into the air, changes of climate. They give scientists food for reflection and investigation.

Concluding the report, let us mention that the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption may be regarded as the example of natural disaster that may occur in other seismic active regions, like Japan, New Guinea etc. Historic approach proves that natural disaster is a complex result of many factors combined, where the first place is occupied by natural process, but economic and technological factors make their major contribution to the damages caused by the disaster.

Reference List

Bankoff, G 2003 Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazards in the Philippines. Routledge, New York.

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Oliver-Smith, A 2002 Catastrophe & Culture: the Anthropology of Disaster. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM.

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