Disasters teach value of combined efforts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 12:00am

Recent earthquakes in Taiwan, China, India and some parts of the United States have caused tremendous suffering.

The frequency of our hearing the word earthquake has perhaps deadened our response to the suffering caused by natural disasters.

Perhaps we have no reaction to these events because we are neither victims nor witnesses.

But consider the feelings of those who experience these disasters. Their suffering is massive.

Lives are lost, people are injured under mountains of rubble, and even though some survive they may have lost their loved ones, parents and friends. They must then try to stay alive in the face of food shortages, disease and bad water.

Hygiene in disaster areas suffers terribly, and illness spreads rapidly through the region, threatening the lives of those who lived through the initial catastrophe.

Earthquakes destroy infrastructure such as bridges, electrical lines and transport, dealing a severe blow to the country's economy. Many buildings and factories collapse.

Loss of life and infrastructure decimate the workforce, and the loss of factories hits jobs. Damaged homes mean many must sleep outside, adding to the trauma.

Victims suffer nightmares and the effects of anxiety, such as pain and disturbed emotions.

Many say they cannot rest at night because they fear they may die in their sleep.

Amid this sadness and destruction, perhaps one good thing may develop - a sense of compassion and a desire to help the victims.

People in regions hit by natural disasters may be forced to put aside rivalries and help one another in a new sense of unity in their efforts to relieve suffering of survivors.

Disasters may also prompt investigations into how to prevent large-scale losses in future catastrophes.

Building designs could be improved, for example. In the United States, many municipal authorities have building codes that require structures to withstand earthquakes.

Relief efforts could be improved, with charities and governments working together to set up camps for the homeless and provide supplies.

International efforts to assist victims could be expanded, and regional authorities could improve standards of hygiene during rebuilding.

Greater focus can be put on social stability, as disasters often make the crime rate worse.

Finally, governments and charitable organisations such as the Red Cross, Red Crescent or the Salvation Army must provide medical help, with rescue teams sent to disaster areas, including grief and trauma counsellors to help lessen victims' emotional problems. Hopefully, these measures could help relieve suffering in the future, if governments and aid agencies can use the lessons learned in recent disasters to improve techniques for dealing with catastrophes that strike later.

Yen-pui is a student at the

Hang Seng School of Commerce in Sha Tin

Graphic: perspglo