Sunday, October 30, 2005

Statistics, damn statistics... and reports.

As a bit if Sunday fun, I was reading a report on the United Nations' Official Day of Disaster Preparedness, the title of which attracted me more to find out what happened on the other 360-odd days of the year: unofficial preparedness?
Actually it was some cerebral get-together, and the piece involved an interview with a senior environment-type dude, Janos Bogardi.
The top line was/is that if nothing is done to cushion the blow of natural disasters, by 2010 50 million could be driven from their homes annually.
Though by no means definitive, there are apparently compelling statistics to show natural disasters are getting worse. Don't know if the dinosaurs, ancient Pompeians or anyone with a turn-of the century condo on Krakatoa would agree, but we are 'experiencing 2.5 to 3 times as many extreme events of climatic em4rgncy as we did in the 1970s’.
Now that kinda of knocks one of my notions on the head, because in the 1970s we certainly had a pretty fair global communication network. I was there. Admittedly not 'as it happens' satellite uplink images from a mobile, but you could get a concerned reporter with a radio to kick some food and water off a rescue chopper and on the scene then just as easily as you can now. So bang goes my theory that a lot of this is just perception because we get told about it immediately. Though I still think there is a difference between hearing about it on the radio a few days later and watching it live.
Now as my title may indicate, I'm not a big fan of reports. For one they seem to consume a lot of effort and introduce a lot of delays to actually doing something, and also can be pretty much made to say anything anyone with an agenda likes. Which is a shame, because it's hard to have a balanced opinion if you have ceased to trust a major avenue of information. A sad consequence of our byte-sized society, I guess.
For instance, one thing that was not mentioned in the piece, though it may have been in the report (if not high on the PR agenda), was that it may be that natural disasters are having more impact simply because there are lot more of us, with a lot more stuff, upon which it can impact. I don't think there were too many Swedish sunbathers on Thai beaches back in the 70’s.
At least the fact that there being a lot more of us was acknowledged as maybe taking its toll on the land upon which we are living. But there was no mention of what to do about that rather significant fact, concentrating instead on efforts to preserve them. Different department, I guess.
The piece was titled 'Preparing for the worst', which may have been the publication's title rather than the aims of the report, but it did seem to focus more on solutions to these disasters, rather than prevention of them, or at least their scale.
There was a nice quote, 'we are always arming for the last battle', which is all too true, but it seems to me they are equally guilty of cherry-picking with the same convenience they are trying to label short-sighted politicos.
Of course we need to do all we can to prepare and protect, but perhaps now is the time to concentrate every bit as much effort on tackling, with all the complex 'ical' nightmares it would entail, on one of the major the causes of such disasters and the costs they create, and that is overpopulation. Before nature does it for us.