This is a guest post by Samantha Montano, one of the wonderful people setting up the Foundation Beyond Belief’s Humanist Disaster Recovery Program. We are now raising funds to help the people of Vanuatu after a devastating typhoon hit those islands last week. You can donate by clicking here.
No Act of God: Science Saves Lives
By Samantha Montano
On March 13th, Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam with wind speeds of 165 mph blew over the small island nation culminating what is being called the worst disaster in the small nation’s history. The proceeding events and those that have followed demonstrate how science and technology, in many forms, are working together to save lives.
As meteorologist watched Cyclone Pam form into one of the largest storms ever seen in the region it became clear that warnings and evacuation instructions needed to be dispensed immediately. These warnings in combination, disaster planning, and the experience locals have with storms led residents to evacuate to safe places in their communities.
It has taken days for aid workers to reach many of the islands and although they have found the complete devastation of the natural and built environments, they are reporting only 11 deaths. Compared to the over 6000 lives lost in the Philippines following Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, 11 has been described as a miracle.
Disaster researchers have overwhelmingly found that if officials tell people to evacuate and give them the means to evacuate, they will. The United States is very fortunate to have well developed advanced warning technologies but this is not always the case in the rest of the world. Vanuatu consists of 80 small, modestly developed islands. Some only have one communication tower for each island. Still, officials in Vanuatu were able to send out warnings via SMS and radios to residents alerting them to the impending storm and encouraging them to take shelter immediately. Officials had the trifecta — a plan, technology, and experience.
Just as a cyclone is no act of God, this low death toll is no divine intervention. It is years of science, technology, and informed elected officials following emergency procedures. It is aid groups that have worked with the population to formulate the best evacuation plans, plans designed to save lives. We study disasters and we create technology so we can help people when the worst happens and the low death toll in Cyclone Pam is the result of that effort.
As faith-based organizations rush to the scene and #PrayForVanuatu trends, let’s demonstrate compassion at its finest and make sure the humanist community shows up.
Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to be raising funds for the people of Vanuatu. 100% of donations will be given to CARE Australia, a secular nonprofit that has been working in the country since 2008 on a variety of disaster resilience and climate change projects, and who currently are providing emergency aid to those in need.