Wednesday, February 8, 2023

It’s Time to Refocus. And Do So Quickly!

Haunting, gut-wrenching images have appeared in worldwide media since last weekend’s horrific dual earthquakes in Turkey and Syria that devastated entire cities and leveled block after block of housing and businesses.  To-date, over 11,000 people are dead, but officials fear the toll will go higher. Much higher. And then there were these photographs.

Aljazeera reports that the photographs above from their post depict “a father holding the hand of his teenage daughter who died trapped under the rubble of a flattened building in the Turkish region of Kahramanmaras.”  The article continues, saying: “Sitting amid the rubble, Mesut Hancer held on to his 15-year-old daughter’s hand which was all that showed from under the slabs of concrete piled above her lifeless body”

Videos of entire city blocks collapsing into rubble while helpless bystanders run for their lives are circulating on social media. The devastation extends as far as any camera can see in all directions. It is so overwhelming, that it fills those who see it—even from the comfort and safety of a living room a continent away—with deep sense of hopelessness. The looks on the faces of the injured and the homeless are of utter despair and emptiness.

These photos hit a nerve in me.  And I believe they should in all of us. We help where we can, our governments supply aid, but the answer must be bigger and more long-lasting. The events of the weekend should renew our resolve to make a difference and rekindle the spark of inspiration that made me start this blog in the first place. That's how this news affected me.

As a parent, seeing these photos made me reach out to my family members and simply tell them I love them. The news of this shocking, heartbreaking event should remind us all that we’re all members of a single human family and that somehow we should share each other’s burdens.  Beyond that, I felt the need to refocus myself professionally (to reconsider what I can do as a single person with my unique skill set to help make a difference) and spiritually (to renew my faith and hope in a better world for all).  The latter I’ll address elsewhere, but I’d like to expound on the former.

Refocusing to Make a Difference

Almost ten years ago, I started this blog with my first entry that included the following statement:

I’ve lived in a number of places that have seen significant damage to shelter and infrastructure, as well as loss of life during natural disasters in recent years.... Hearing about them or watching them unfold, I have often felt a strong, visceral and emotional sense of personal loss.  My response is always the same.  I ask myself: “Couldn’t someone have done more to prevent such widespread damage to life and property? Is there something I can do to keep this from happening?”

There are significant efforts underway by governments, NGOs and others worldwide to plan for effective responses to disasters.  The United Nations, for example, sponsors a Making Cities Resilient program to “advocate widespread commitment by local governments to build resilience to disasters and increased support by national governments to cities for the purpose of strengthening local capacities.”

Besides disaster response, these organizations also help keep provide information on the best means to create resilient cities and town in terms of sustainability, adapting to the effects of climate change, reducing energy consumption, mitigating the impact of economic decline, etc.  All are worth consideration, and all require our attention. 

My professional experience has brought me to a somewhat more specific area of interest, an area where I might be able to help make a difference.  My career has been centered on implementing physical and geographical solutions to development issues—deciding what facilities and improvements are needed by a population, where the new structures should go, and how they should be configured and constructed to make them the most successful and, in the context of this discussion, the least vulnerable.

Climate scientists probe glaciers for clues to what has been and what may be. But at the same time, these same people understand that even if we are able to reverse the current trends, it will take time. We should be preparing for the inevitable. We need to adapt. We need to modify our buildings, our lifestyles, and our expectations to better meet the physical demands of living on a changing Earth.

“Out of Harm’s Way” is the title of this blog and helping keep our homes and communities safe from natural events was the original impetus behind it all.  In the last ten years, I’ve published nearly 150 posts outlining critical benchmarks, standards and exemplary activities that countries and communities have implemented to help do just that.  It’s time to revisit those posts and refocus our efforts on making a difference in the most vulnerable places--then to highlight new solutions, policies and technologies that can help create safer places to live for everyone.

Watch this space!


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