Rain and volcanoes are natural -- disasters are man made

It usually take three or four weeks before issues of Proceso, the weekly news commentary of the University of Central America, are available in English on its website. Recently the September 28 edition (before volcanic eruptions and Hurricane Stan) became available, and I was struck with the prescience of the following passage:

With the amount of rain of the last days you can always reach a conclusion like this. The authorities –specifically the Ministry of Governance- have seemed negligent, incompetent, and astonishingly irresponsible. The damage caused by the rain in the poor communities located near the rivers and lakes in different areas of the country (or at the lower areas of the city –the barrios of Candelaria, Modelo, and La Vega, for instance-) is nothing new, it has happened before, and now it was worse. The rain comes from the higher areas, where deforestation has deteriorated its capacity to retain the water.

The impact of the rain over the poorest sectors of the society reveals both its vulnerability and the complete lack of disposition of the government to assist the people’s needs in an integral manner, to begin with, most people do not even have a secure and a decent home. The government’s spokespeople do not even think in something better than neutralizing the tragedy, that is, to see it as a result of the blind forces of nature, against which nothing much can be done. That attitude does not only free them from any responsibility, but it also leaves in the hands of each family –or in the hands of people of good will that that might want to help- the task of rescuing their few personal belongings and looking for a safe place to stay.....

These precarious and insecure conditions are not natural at all, but they are the result of a social and an economic order that works turning its back on the fundamental needs of the population. The strength of the rain –or the earthquakes- might be as natural as they want it to be, but its impact is a social matter. Those that live in precarious conditions and in poverty are the most affected ones with the floods. And it is this precariousness what has to be faced because it is that precariousness what turns the rain or the earthquakes into disasters. Disasters are not natural, they are social matters, and they carry the vulnerability of the different social groups. That is the kind of vulnerability that has to be faced. This requires the implementation of a group of public policies aimed to the welfare of the population.

The volcanic eruption and the hurricane rains which started two days later, killing 71 and making tens of thousands homeless, would prove the accuracy of those words.