On the other hand, it is important to recognise thatthere is a weakness to the argument formed by the social scientists,geographers and disaster scholars in that there is no such thing as a naturaldisaster. In the second half of this discussionessay I am going to consider nature and humanity as intertwined concepts. Iwill explore why it could be argued that there is such thing as a naturaldisaster. I will achieve this by using theFoot and Mouth disease case which visited the UK in 2001 and again the Haitiearthquake of 2010 to demonstrate this point of view.
The Foot and Mouth disease is an infectious and oftenfatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. In 2001, over a period of seven months theFoot and Mouth contaminated over 2030 premises. The contamination led toslaughter of six million animals and it was particularly hard hitting for therural communities (Law and Singleton, 2004). Animals which are affected by Footand Mouth are cloven-hoofed animals such like, sheep, goats and deer. Cumbriawas the hardest hit compared to any other place in the United Kingdom, theoutbreak lasted for months on end in upland areas and this was particularlytragic because the farming community was already suffering due to the droppingglobal prices and the changes in exchange rate between £ sterling and the Euro(Law and Singleton, 2004). Turner (1976, as cited in Alexander, 1999, p4) definesa natural disaster as “…an event concentrated in time and space, whichthreatens a society or a relatively self-sufficient subdivision of a societywith major unwanted consequences…” The definitiongiven by Turner (1976) aligns to the 2001 Foot and Mouth disaster. Firstly, thefarming society was threatened because farmers lost their animals and this inturn led to farmers losing their livelihoods, an unwanted consequence.
Moreover,referring back to the 2010 Haiti earthquake according to Turner (1976) thiscould also be seen as a natural disaster. The Haiti earthquake could be seen asa natural disaster because the earthquake destroyed infrastructure, homes andfamilies, all of which are major unwanted consequences. For this reason, theFoot and Mouth disease (2001) and the Haiti earthquake (2010) could be seen asnatural disasters as they correlate to the definition presented by Turner(1976). Secondly, it is argued that natural disasters do existand occasionally they are said to be ‘acts of God’ and this therefore meansthat natural disasters are both inescapable and certain (Apodaca, 2017). Therefore,it could be argued that the Foot and Mouth disease, Haiti earthquake and HurricaneKatrina where certain to happen, no matter what. Erikson also explores thistheme and can be seen to be supporting it within his book “Natural disastersare almost always experienced acts of God or caprices of nature.
They visit us,as if from afar” (Erikson, 1994, as cited in Law and Singleton, 2004, p3). Therefore, from Erikson (1994) and Apodaca(2017) points of view natural disasters cannot be stopped. Natural disastershave been previously criticised in the first half of this discussion essay for notexisting because as according to Sheller (2012) disasters such as HurricaneKatrina and Haiti could have been prevented, or at least impacts minimisedthrough early preparation and emergency planning.
In major contrast, the ‘actof God’ viewpoint assumes that disasters are entirely natural and are a resultpunishment for sin (Steinberg, 2000). However, a key weakness of the ‘act ofGod’ theory is that it is used by officials such as governments to escaperesponsibility for the disaster (Steinberg, 2000) For example, through namingHaiti earthquake as an ‘act of God’ governments are able to escape therealities of marginalisation of the poor. Moreover, in the case of Foot andMouth disease by claiming an ‘act of God’ officials avoid realities of thedisaster and how to prevent an outbreak from happening again in the futureyears to come. Overall, the argument putforward by Turner (1976), Steinberg (2000) and Apodaca (2017) in that disastersare natural I believe is that of a weak one. Firstly, using the statementdisasters are an ‘act of God’ is an escapist term and a way to avoidpunishment. I use the term avoid punishment because officials do not want to beseen as responsible because if they are they may incorporate fines fordisasters and this claim of responsibility can also lead to imprisonment. Therefore,then as a result, negative press will follow and whoever is fined to beresponsible will be faced with stigma.
However, on the other hand thedefinition of a natural disaster put forward by Turner (196) of an event whichthreatens a society with unwanted consequences does hold some logic I believe.There is always going to be a split in society of the classes, for example richand the poor and more often as we have found the poor are mostly affected, dueto marginalisation. However, class division on one hand should not stop adisaster such as, Haiti earthquake from being labelled as ‘natural’, since theweather is a natural element which tragically destroyed a community. Toconclude, this essay has explored the claim that there is no such thing as anatural disaster using three disasters, Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Katrina andthe Foot and Mouth disaster.
This essay has concluded the two sides of theargument and I have incorporated my views into each sections conclusion.However, as I have established the causes of disasters are more complex thanthey appear to be at first and this is because they transpire out of complexsocial and natural interactions. It becomes increasingly hard to distinguishwhether a disaster is natural because as this essay has revealed humans arealmost always involved and because of this many argue that this removes thenaturalness from the disaster (Whatmore, 1999). Nevertheless, I am concludingthat indeed there is no such thing as a natural disaster. I am concluding withthis opinion because if it was not for the social and economic issues coupledwith human interaction then the primary and secondary effects of HurricaneKatrina and Haiti earthquake would not have been so adverse.
On the contrary,this arguably does not explain the reasoning behind Foot and Mouth disease(2010). However, it was found that the Government ignored advice given in 1969Northumberland report into previous Foot and Mouth whereby it was said infectedanimals should be killed and buried on the same day (Brooker and North, 2001).This crucial piece of information again signifies that humans contributed tothe intensifying disaster and if farmers did kill and bury infected animals onthe same day then the disaster may not have destroyed such high numbers oflivestock. Therefore, with this in mind it can be argued there indeed is nosuch thing as a natural disaster, humans coupled with inequalities almostalways do remove the naturalness from disasters.Word count – 2,893