Environmental hazards pose a number of threats to humans and the environment, some relatively minor but others very severe. Different types of hazard pose different threats and have different impacts. A threat may be an event that occurs quite often e.g. hurricanes or tornadoes, or an event that is less frequent but carries much more force e.g. an earthquake. The main threats that most environmental hazards pose include deaths and destruction caused by the hazard events, and the economic cost to overcome the disasters.
What effects do environmental hazards create? The effects of a disaster can be categorised in 3 different ways: 1. Primary effects happen immediately e.g. explosions, falling buildings, fire, deaths through impact, etc.. 2. Secondary effects happen soon after e.g. loss of power supplies, collapsing roads, structural damage, collapse of unstable buildings, onset of disease, etc.. Secondary effects start to happen within minutes of the hazard event which means emergency crews are very vulnerable.
3. Tertiary effects are the long-term effects of the disaster e.g. costs of rebuilding, disease, loss of homes, damage to the economy and dwindling supplies. Some of the effects can be difficult to categorise. Some of the damage can be difficult to see and could be thought to have happened later. Some effects can take quite a long time to become apparent, such as crop losses, and it can be difficult to link them to the event as there could be other possible reasons. Some effects occur at more than one stage e.g. disease.
How does the impact on rich and poor countries differ? More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs), rich countries, often suffer less overall than Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs), poor countries. In some MEDCs where earthquakes are common e.g. Kobe in Japan, buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes -‘earthquake-proof’. This includes steel frames, collapsing bottom floors, deep foundations, etc.. In LEDCs e.g. Mexico City in Mexico, buildings have often been built quickly and often not to proper regulations. When an earthquake did strike Mexico City suffered much more than Kobe. Many LEDCs have poorly made buildings purely due to cost.
Roads and other transport links are similar. MEDCs have often put more time and money into design and building and these can often withstand greater hazard events. Emergency services may be better prepared in MEDCs and there may be more of them. Dealing with hazard events Different countries have different levels of ability to deal with hazard events. Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) and More Economically Developed Countries (MEDCs) often show this difference. Basically, the differences between rich and poor countries are that the richer ones have the funds available to prepare for disaster, forecast it and deal with it afterwards.
For example, richer countries have: 1. Better designed buildings 2. Disaster response plans 3. Forecasting technology 4. Community preparation 5. Awareness schemes in schools Poorer countries are not able to do this, therefore, what tends to happen is that they deal with the event after it has happened – more cure than prevention. Lack of emergency service provision in poorer countries means the death toll can be very high. For example, in 1985 a large earthquake hit Mexico City. Mexico is a very poor country and there was huge devastation leaving the country financially crippled. This could happen again in the future and, as it took a long time for the country to be rebuilt after 1985, the economy is still suffering.
There are communities acting to prevent environmental hazards before they strike. It is seen as important to try and introduce a culture of awareness worldwide. There are two important stages are: 1. Disaster Reduction Reduction is long-term, including efforts to understand hazards, using good architects for better building design, forecasting and land zoning. 2. Disaster Preparation Preparation is shorter-term measures including evacuation plans and having food and medical supplies ready.
Scientists are keen to play a key role in monitoring hazards, developing ways to understand hazard effects. Their view in general is that this scientific knowledge must be shared and made available worldwide. Efficient disaster reduction must be mutually reinforced between scientists, citizens and Governments. Trying to minimize risk is a far-reaching concept. It can become a political issue, as the cost of redirecting priorities from visible projects to invisible perceived threats is very difficult. Governments want people to be able to see the results they produce – the money put into prevention could be seen by some to be wasted if that disaster never happens.
Worth the risk? Positives influences It may seem strange that people still choose to live in potentially hazardous areas. For example, volcanoes have a wide range of effects on humans. These can be problematic or beneficial. It is usually the destructive nature of volcanoes which is more widely documented. However, many people rely on volcanoes for their everyday survival. Today, many millions of people live close to volcanoes for this very reason.
People live close to volcanoes because energy can be harnessed by using the steam from underground, which has been heated by the Earth’s magma. This steam is used to drive turbines in power stations to produce electricity for domestic and industrial use. Countries such as Iceland and New Zealand use this method of generating electricity. Volcanoes attract millions of visitors around the world every year. Apart from the volcano itself, hot springs and geysers can also bring in the tourists. This creates many jobs for people in the tourism industry. This includes work in hotels, restaurants and gift shops. Often locals are also employed as tour guides.
How can poorer countries be helped? Disaster Reduction – reducing the impact of natural disasters in developing countries is key. Rapid population growth, urbanization, environmental degradation and global climate change all contribute to the size and frequency of disasters. Despite better understanding and investment into hazard causes and effects, continued encroachment of humans into hazardous areas continues. This is in addition to greater economic potential arising from economic development. The greatest financial losses are in the poorer countries.
Forecasting and warning has reduced the death toll in richer countries, but there is still the need for better building design and construction to reduce economic costs of disaster. As the world population increases and people live longer, the potential for devastating effects increases. Aid – giving humanitarian aid to poorer countries under threat is a short-term solution. It can become taken for granted and actually discourage local initiatives in disaster risk reduction. It is easier and cheaper short-term to assume that help will come rather than to try and put preventative measures in place. This is very dangerous as these countries will never be able to get back on their feet. Trying to deal with it afterwards, after all the effects have happened and the area is devastated, many people are killed or injured, buildings and livelihoods have been lost, means that the costs are always going to be that much greater and it will take longer and longer to get back to normality, if at all.
Overseas development assistance had been decreasing recently, but contributions for humanitarian assistance for emergency relief have increased significantly. Development efforts have focused on helping the poor deal with risks in employment, health care, transport, education, water and sanitation – disaster risk traditionally has not been a priority. The reliance has been on the UN (United Nations) and Red Cross to step in with relief. Recently, the international community are beginning to realise that relief and development are not separate, that vulnerability to hazards has everything to do with poverty and development together.