natural disasters

Relief mission?

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Bangladesh was struck by a major cyclone on 15 November. Cyclone Sidr was larger than the entire country.

United Nations assessments suggest 2.2 million people in need of immediate life-saving relief. Some 3,500 are known to have died, with 40,000 injured and around 1,000 missing. Some 8.5 million homes have been destroyed, and nearly three million livestock killed. And 6,000 square kilometres of coastal mangrove forest, which offered limited protection against such extreme weather conditions, have been lost - all this in a country ranked 139th out of 175 on the 2003 Human Development Index.

New Orleans, Old Prejudices

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Mike Davis finds that every aspect of the response to Hurricane Katrina disaster was shaped by race and class.

The tempest which destroyed New Orleans was conjured out of tropical seas and an angry atmosphere 125 miles offshore of the Bahamas. Labelled initially as 'Tropical Depression 12' on 23 August, it quickly intensified into 'Tropical Storm Katrina'. Making landfall near Miami on 24 August, Katrina had grown into a small hurricane - 'Category 1' on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Crossing over Florida to the Gulf of Mexico where it wandered for four days, Katrina underwent a monstrous and largely unexpected transformation.

Sri Lanka: Tsunami Reconstruction Built on Weak Foundations

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Despite much talk of reconstruction since the Boxing Day tsunami ravaged the coastline of Sri Lanka, ordinary people still find themselves in a precarious position and fear for the future.

The biggest problem is housing. Even before the tsunami, there was a shortage of over half a million houses throughout the country, and to this must be added the needs of the 800,000 people who became homeless on Boxing Day. There seems to be very little sign of the large-scale housing projects that were announced in mid-January. Foundation stones have been laid for several housing schemes, but no further work has been done except in a very few areas.

A Rainy Day in Tijuana

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There is nothing inevitable about an increasing number of deaths in natural disasters.

Juana Tapia lost her two daughters - Matha, eight, and Maria, 13 - to the sudden rush of water and debris. It blew their shanty apart like an explosion. The little girls didn't have time to scream. Neighbours helped Juana and her husband claw through the muck, but they couldn't locate the children. Later bomberos (firefighters) came and dug out the crumpled bodies. The neighbourhood was chaos, mud and inconsolable grief. A few blocks away a five year old boy had also been swept away and drowned. Hundreds of homes had been damaged or destroyed.

Tsunami: The Archipelago of Horror

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Mike Davis recalls another tsunami tragedy, and asks what lessons can be learned.

Laupahoehoe in Hawaiian means 'foot of lava'. Thousands of years ago lava cascaded down a steep canyon on the side of mighty Mauna Kea and created a flat shelf between the towering cliffs of the Hamakua coast on the eastern shore of the island of Hawaii. Laupahoehoe Point became a ceremonial centre of great importance to native Hawaiians as well as the only canoe landing place along 50 miles of rugged coast.

Tsunami: A History of War and Colonialism

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The politics and history of countries affected by the tsunami influence relief efforts today.

Aceh

Aceh, a province on the northern tip of Indonesia, was the hardest hit by the tsunami. While the true number of people dead may never be known, we were quickly assured that Exxon's liquefied natural gas plants had escaped damage. The tsunami rendered hundreds of thousands homeless and destroyed infrastructure. But Aceh is a region already decimated by a war which has raged on and off for 28 years.

A Disaster Made So Much Worse

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Andrew Stone looks at the hypocrisy behind the tragedy.

Last June the UN's Oceanographic Commission discussed the danger of a giant tidal wave sweeping through the Indian Ocean. It concluded that the 'Indian Ocean has a significant threat from both local and distant tsunamis' and needs to set up a warning network like the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii. This was just the latest of many such proposals and the meeting broke up with no action resolved. Tens of thousands of lives were thus abandoned to the elements for the sake of the £5 million the system would have cost.

A Tale of Two Responses

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Rarely has the contrast been so stark. On the one hand the response by ordinary people to the Indian Ocean tsunami that has killed more than 150,000 people has been overwhelming.

In Britain alone tens of millions of pounds has been collected, with aid agencies reporting that the size and number of donations are at record levels. The generosity by people in other countries has been on a similar scale.

Poor, Black and Left Behind

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Hurricane Ivan highlights US rulers' contempt for the black and poor - a contempt echoed by John Kerry's campaign

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan saw affluent white people flee the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less - mainly black - were left behind in their below sea level shotgun shacks and ageing tenements to face the watery wrath.

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