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Global disasters –Wings of a Butterfly – is 2012 becoming true?

When the Hollywood disaster film 2012 was being advertised in late 2009, I remember joking and mentioning to a friend that if the world comes to an end in 2012 that would be very inconvenient especially as it’s the year I turn 40! Life was supposed to begin at 40 not the world coming to an end. While the film 2012 was typical of all Hollywood disaster films from The Towering Inferno to Day After Tomorrow revolving around an American family trying to escape a world that was rapidly crumbling around them, indications of natural and man-made disasters happening in 2010 are an alarming sign of the realities of a 21st century’s precarious environment. So is that a sign of the future? To answer that, a brief look at the catalogue of disasters that have occurred in 2010 from January to August is required.

In early January there was a devastating earthquake that wiped out half of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, one of the poorest and less developed cities in the Caribbean. The earthquake attracted international headlines around the globe and images of devastated neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince instantly hit the international media. The death toll was catastrophically high eventually amounting to nearly 230 000 people losing their lives. Port-au-Prince was virtually flattened and will take years to rebuild. Shortly after the Haitian earthquake another earthquake shook the Chilean city of Concepcion yielding a far smaller death toll but was deemed a more powerful earthquake. Lack of solid infrastructure and emergency contingency plans in Haiti left the impoverished island nation ravaged. Ironic as it is surrounded by some of the most affluent islands in the Caribbean from the Bahamas to Antigua.

Following these calamities there were a series of plane crashes happening across the globe almost every month. In April the Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his entire Cabinet were killed in a plane crash on a routine flight to Smolensk in Russia. In May, a Libyan airline ploughed into the desert outside Tripoli airport on a Johannesburg to Amsterdam flight, leaving only one Dutch boy as a survivor. An Air India plane crashed in the jungles of Mangalore killing all 158 on board also in the same month. A similar plane crash occurred in Pakistan in July where all 152 on board perished shortly before landing in Islamabad, crashing into the nearby Margalla Hills.

Also in April were the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The 14 April eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano entered an explosive phase and ejected ash to heights in excess of 9 km (30,000 ft) causing major disruption to European air travel affecting the UK, France, Ireland, Scandinavia and Germany for weeks causing the International Aviation Authorities to ban air travel in some of the busiest parts of Northern Europe estimating an average cost of 148 million Euros a day loss attributed to the closing of airports and the subsequent flight restrictions across most of the continent. The Volcanic ash cloud was deemed dangerous should it come into contact with aero plane engines and due to it’s magnitude, the ash was sent high into the earth’s atmosphere and blown over some of Europe’s busiest and most congested airspace, grounding all flights from Heathrow to Schipol leaving passengers stranded across Europe from London to Kiev from Oslo to Barcelona.

The air traffic disruption following the Icelandic eruption was estimated to be greater than the closure of airports in the USA following the 9/11 attacks in New York. This air traffic disruption affected European diplomats, Prime Ministers and the President of the United States from attending the funeral of the Polish president in Krakow who perished in the air crash just days before the Icelandic volcano erupted. Although South Africa’s own air traffic chaos at King Shaka International on the day of the 2010 World Cup semi finals in Durban pales in comparison, it only shows how the world has become so reliant on air travel in the last 100 years despite the multiple air crashes, terrorism attacks and natural disasters. For modern air travel is combining advanced technology with that of the natural world. If those two are not in sync then tragedies do occur and will continue to occur.

Less than a week after the Volcanic disruption the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico close to the American cities of Pensacola and Gulfport caused one of the biggest oil spills to hit that nation’s coastline since the late 1980’s. The underwater pipe which was damaged in the explosion was leaking oil into the Gulf at a rate of an estimate a 1000 to 5000 barrels a day, damaging the ecologically sensitive coastlines of four states including the Mississippi River Delta. More recently there have been devastating floods in Pakistan with a continually rising death toll and mudslides in China, so while 2010 seems to be a catalogue of disasters, is it a precursor to a far more significant Armageddon in 2012?

The answer would be no. Despite even the harshest of adversities, natural disasters and wars, mankind has an amazing ability to survive, however what nations need to insure is maintaining that delicate balance between technology and nature by using both to complement each other and not be mutually destructive. Besides from a personal perspective I want to see my 40th birthday being the ever eternal optimist. As for chaos theory, the wings of a butterfly reverberate around the globe.

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