Week 7

Denaturalizing Disasters

In “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago” by Eric Klinenberg, the author discusses how the Chicago fire isn’t really a “natural” disaster but rather a social disaster fueled  by political breakdown and lack of connections causing 700 people to perish. I thought this was an intriguing read because when I hear about natural disasters, I simply think that it’s unfortunate and not about the fact that consequences of natural disaster can be prevented by altering the political and social conditions prevalent in a city. In the case of the Chicago fire, many of the victims were elderly and alone in their homes.

Recently in 2008, a cyclone in Burma left 200,000 dead. Those deaths could have been prevented if it weren’t for the Burmese military government. For example, the junta knew about the cyclone 48 hours before it hit but ignored the warnings. Foreign aid did not arrive until 5 days after the cyclone occurred due to the junta’s deliberating postponing and refusal of visas and entry. The military government even confiscated supplies leading to the suspicion that it will use those supplies for itself. To me, this sounds like a genocide cloaked under the guise of “natural disaster.” This is extremely unfortunate because this makes it more difficult for the international community to take action against the military junta.

Read more about the cyclone: http://www.generationaldynamics.com/cgi-bin/D.PL?xct=gd.e080511

-Jessica Heng


Genocide and Vulnerability

In Eric Klinenberg’s “Denaturalizing Disaster: A Social Autopsy of the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave,” many unnecessary deaths occurred. They were unnecessary because the majority of the deaths were due to exposure to heat. The deaths could have been easily preventable if the dissemination of information and resources was provided in time, and provided in the poor communities where the majority of the deaths occurred. The main people that were dying were senior citizens because they were locking themselves in their home due to the prevalence of crime that existed in their neighborhood. The combination of crime and the lack of having close relatives nearby put senior citizens at a higher risk.

The critique of the paper was that the government had a social responsibility towards keeping its citizens safe; instead they shifted the responsibility on its citizens in order to be blameless for all the deaths.

Genocides occur when a number of factors come together. I believe that one of the biggest ones is the vulnerability of a population. The more vulnerable a population the easier it is for them to be overlooked and ignored and the easier it is for deaths to occur, in the Chicago heat wave, or for the displacement of Native Americans, or the extermination of Jews to take place.

Interesting website on genocide prevention: