The December 2003 earthquake event in Iran that resulted in an estimated 30,000 persons dead is tragic. So too the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that resulted in approximately 230,000 dead. As I grieve for them, it is my sincere hope that similar events will not result in similar losses.
God is automatically judged to be guilty of such tragedies, and the predictable questions that imply that God is somehow responsible have already begun to be asked. “How could God have allowed this” is a typical response to such disasters. However, classifying such tragedies as acts of God can perpetuate an indifferent attitude among governments that tend to facilitate such catastrophes.
The latest earthquake event in Iran and the subsequent assertions that it was an act of God have prompted a review of some of the major human tragedies in recent history, in order to determine whether they were indeed acts of God.
Flooding events over the past 200 years have resulted in the deaths of over fifty million people, most of them in China. Many of the floods were man-induced through poor agricultural, land-use planning, and construction practises. Areas that are vulnerable to floods are well known. However, people choose to reside in these vulnerable areas, and governments allow them to, due to the perceived higher economic benefits of doing so. People and their governments therefore decide that these benefits outweigh the attendant risks to human health and property. Some countries try to reduce these risks by instituting regulations for persons residing and conducting business in flood prone areas.
Nearly one million people have died as a result of earthquakes and hurricanes over the past approximately 30 years. Earthquakes and hurricane force winds are naturally occurring events. Significant research has been undertaken in these areas in order to provide governments and individuals with information that can reduce the vulnerability of buildings. Regrettably, most governments lacked the courage to effectively enforce building standards in their countries, and builders and homeowners generally viewed the adherence to such standards as an unnecessary expense. Governments and individuals therefore determined that vulnerable buildings carried an acceptable risk – until the event occurred.
The worst cases of starvation that have occurred over the past 150 years have resulted in over 30 million deaths, most of them in Russia, China, and Ireland. In each of these cases, the countries had food, but their governments exported it rather than fed their citizens.
The human tragedies from natural events can generally be prevented through effective enforcement of adequate land-use policies and building standards by responsible governments.
In addition to disasters from natural events, God is also blamed for the 20 million preventable deaths due to HIV/AIDS over the past 20 years, the over 100 million lives lost to war over the past 100 years, the tens of millions killed by their own paranoid leaders over the past 100 years, and the tens of millions deaths due to cancer.
Many tragedies can be avoided by adhering to the operating procedures specified by our Designer. These include acting responsibly, paying attention to personal hygiene, and acknowledging that sexual intercourse is exclusive to a man and a woman in a marriage relationship. Our Designer has given us a free will, and we seem to have generally chosen to adopt destructive behaviours that either result in our requiring extensive repair and maintenance procedures, or that renders us irreparable.
From the examples presented in this article, it is difficult to attribute the disasters that seem to accompany natural events to God. The tragedies are preventable, but they require responsible individual and governmental action. One such action is for the Ministry of Public Works to effectively enforce the Barbados National Building Code, and for builders to adhere to the building standards contained therein.
Grenville Phillips II