Natural disasters?

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By JOSÉ DOMINGUES DE GODOI FILHO*

It is human activity that has been transforming natural risk into disaster

“Mother Earth seems to be abandoned. The impact of geological hazards on our lives and economy is enormous and will never go away. Floods, tsunamis, storms, droughts, fires, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides and landslides are responsible every year for the loss of thousands of lives, causing an equal number of injuries and destroying homes and livelihoods” (UNESCO, 2004).

The concept of risk areas is comprehensive, sometimes controversial, but invariably involves some kind of risk to the activities of the human species in a given region of the Earth. The risks and the respective disasters that can be generated are produced both by natural processes and by human action.

The IUGS (International Union of Geological Sciences) defines geological hazards as a term that encompasses geological phenomena such as landslides and volcanic eruptions; hydrometeorological risks, such as floods and extreme tides; geophysical hazards such as earthquakes. “Any Earth process that endangers human life can be considered a geological hazard. Its scope ranges from local events (for example, rockfalls and mudflows) to global ones, which can threaten the entire human species, such as asteroid impacts and the occurrence of large eruptions in volcanoes”.

The analysis and evaluation of the superficial geological processes that configure the relief imply the need to consider the result of the interaction between the forces involved with the internal and external dynamics of the earth. The phenomena that generate volcanism, earthquakes and deep deformations in the building of the Earth's crust are related to the Earth's internal forces and generate great transformations on the surface of the planet, that is, in the relief.

The external dynamics associated with geological agents such as continental surface waters, oceanic waters, winds and ice, have solar energy as their main force of transformation. External geological agents act on existing materials, breaking them down, decomposing them, transporting them and depositing them in sedimentation basins.

The set of planet transformation processes involving internal dynamics and external dynamics has occurred for at least 4,5 billion years, and is known to the human species, being studied systematically at least since the XNUMXth century.

Therefore, statements, common in times of catastrophic occurrences, such as “a certain region has been known for more than 50 years and nothing has ever happened” do not make the slightest sense, because even if they were centuries, they would mean nothing close to the age of occurrence of the catastrophes. geological processes on Earth.

To meet its needs, such as energy, transport, food, housing, physical security, health, communication, the human species is obliged to occupy and modify the natural spaces on Earth with the construction of cities, industries, power plants, roads, ports, canals, agriculture, the extraction of wood, minerals and fossil fuels and the disposal of industrial and urban waste. It is the Earth's crust that provides the water and soils that sustain mankind, agriculture, forests and all other forms of life, as well as the minerals needed for buildings, energy and industry.

Thus, especially after the Second World War, as a result of the intensification of its actions, the human species became a geological agent with a high power to transform the planet. Natural ecosystems, until then the result of the interaction of geology and climate over time, began to undergo major transformations imposed by human activities. Hence the importance of knowing the terrestrial dynamics to understand the natural arrangement of landscapes, with its relief forms, its surface dynamics, its geological history, its characteristics, its behaviors and its vulnerabilities in the face of human intervention. It is necessary to dialogue with the stones to strengthen our relationship with the Earth.

The geosciences, in particular geology, have contributed to improving the dialogue with the Earth with information necessary for the use of mineral, energy and water resources, the prevention of natural catastrophes and the best use of physical space. Acting in interaction with other areas of knowledge such as agronomy, chemistry, medicine and civil engineering, it has left no room for blaming nature (with its slopes and rainfall) for the catastrophes.

In recent decades, investigations of geological problems (geoenvironmental studies) arising from the relationship between man and the earth's surface have advanced substantially, as a response to the devastating power of the human species, which has made man a geological agent with the capacity to transform the landscape, similar to or, in some cases, even greater than that of geological events; however, with a much higher speed and not assimilable by the terrestrial environment.

One of the main objectives of a geoenvironmental study is to provide administrators, planners and other professionals who work in territorial organization and development with integrated information on the main characteristics of the physical environment and its behavior in the face of various forms of use and occupation. This study is also used as an instrument for the environmental management of projects such as mining, hydroelectric plants, tunnels, roads, industries, landfills, master plans, oil pipelines, gas pipelines and subdivisions, and also of geographic regions, such as hydrographic basins, conservation units, coastal areas, metropolitan regions and border zones.

For this information to produce results and for a dialogue with the Earth to be established, as recommended by the different IUGS/Unesco forums, “citizens need to know where and when natural disasters occur, their extent, likely behavior and duration”. This is an issue that relates to “the role of science in public policy decision-making, including how issues such as risk and uncertainty, the quality and quantity of data influence who uses the information, what information is needed and how. what purpose it is used.

The interaction and participation of society is fundamental, so that the dialogue with the Earth is not truncated and so that, for example, in times of rain, accidents in civil works and in spaces of human occupation, which have caused countless victims in our country, are not attributed, by those responsible for the undertakings and by many public authorities, to the intensity of the rains and/or to geological unforeseen circumstances.

Explanations that represent violence against any thinking being and, unless better judgment, a materialized crime with the intention of deceiving society. After all, it is not natural risks that kill people, but the irresponsibility of those who allowed or induced people to occupy the banks of rivers, slopes, among other places, where the risks were well known.

It is human activity that has been transforming natural risk into disaster, as emphasized by Salvano Briceno, director of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, recalling, at the same time, that “in Russia, the mismanagement of forests was one of the main causes of the fires that destroyed the country. In China, uncontrolled urban growth and deforestation favor landslides.

What happened, for example, in the mountainous region of the state of Rio de Janeiro and in other parts of the country, considering the history of rainfall in these spaces, could possibly have generated natural processes of landslides and mud flows, even without any human action. However, human activities amplified and transformed, by their presence, the natural risk into a disaster. Worst of all, those who should have the responsibility for investigating events and punishing offenders seek to excuse themselves for floods and other disasters, attributing the events to their inevitability and passing the blame for the catastrophes to nature and, eventually, to God. .

It is past time and it is necessary to stop considering natural disasters as something immutable and inevitable and assume that it is the conditions of social and economic development, occupation of rural space and urban growth that create or reduce disasters and risks. As it is not always possible to avoid natural hazards, it is imperative to implement a risk reduction strategy, replacing the disaster management policy.

Scientists and other professionals, mainly in the field of engineering, should not forget that, despite scientific methods promising and promising the possibility of an improved science of risk and sustainability, public policies will always be influenced by the public and the political agenda of the day. . All this without mentioning the contributions and affronts to the technical norms and legislation in force in the country produced, in recent years, by the occupants of the highest positions of the executive branch, with the speech of accelerating growth, which has only accelerated the catastrophes.

Finally, it is worth recalling the warning by engineer Carlos Henrique Medeiros, published by the ABGE Magazine – Associação Brasileira de Geologia de Engenharia (nº 85, July-August-September 2009) that: “We need to reflect on our technical limitations and /or organizational factors, as well as factors of a non-technical nature: hiring for the lowest price, deficiency or lack of supervision, projects focused on the economy and using technicians and/or consultants without the proper qualifications, unenforceable deadlines for studies, projects and construction, planning and management incompatible with the complexity of the project and selected executive techniques, reduction of the technical team, destruction of the technical memory of traditional companies, as well as the scrapping of universities and research institutes”.

*José Domingues de Godoi Filho is teacher dthe Faculty of Geosciences at UFMT.

 

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