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The problem of natural disasters and their devastating impact on people’s lives and financial well-being is a universal one and can affect any country no matter how advanced it may be. However, due to several geographical reasons, some regions are more subjected to disasters than others. In some of them, they are already perceived as a part of daily life.
Many people are convinced that there is nothing to be done to prevent a catastrophe and thus, accept it as an act of God. This point of view is opposed by professionals worldwide, whose major task is to learn how to predict and prevent natural cataclysms or reduce their negative consequences in case they happen. As it has been learned from the experience of previous generations, situational awareness coupled with timely and proper intervention can significantly reduce the impact of disasters (Kano, Wood, Siegel, & Bourque, 2016).
Disaster epidemiology is a new discipline, which investigates disasters from an epidemiologic viewpoint to estimate the short- and long-term health consequences of cataclysms. It encompasses a lot of areas such as injury, mental health, infectious diseases, environmental health, etc. Disaster epidemiology uses two main approaches.
The first one presupposes a classical analysis of causes that underlie this or that disaster, together with an approximate number of deaths associated with it. The second is concerned with alleviating the consequences when a natural catastrophe takes place (Kano et al., 2016). Thus, the paper at hand will concentrate on the analysis of the impacts of natural disasters in Saudi Arabia (in comparison with those of the Asian region) together with the policy of their prevention.
Saudi Arabia: Profile and Trends of the Disaster Epidemiology
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is situated in western Asia and is characterized by a considerable variety of landscape, from coastal areas in the east and west, to mountains in the south-west. Besides, there is a desert stretching along the border in the south (Saud, 2010).
The country’s terrorist attacks attract a lot of attention to the world public. However, natural disasters, despite being neglected by the mass media, have been on the rise for the last two decades (Saud, 2010). Among all possible cataclysms, floods are the most frequent. The reason behind this is complex. Since there is a desert in the south, rains are not abundant, which leads to the underdevelopment of the drainage system. Besides, cities surrounded by mountains are situated in the low ground.
Thus, when it rains, all the water flows come down and flood the area. This type is called flash floods and is the most devastating disaster in the country along with riverine floods (Dawod, Mirza, & Al-Ghamdi, 2013). The statistics show that since 2000 up to the present moment, floods took away lives of 394 citizens and affected 24653 people in total (CRED, 2015a).
Table 1. Hydrological disasters in Saudi Arabia
|Disaster No.||Disaster Subtype||Start date||End date||Total deaths||Total affected|
Source: CRED (2015a)
Viral and bacterial diseases rate the second after the hydrological disaster in the scale of their impact. In total, they have accounted for 168 deaths and 571 affected people since 2000 (CRED, 2015b).
Table 2. Biological diseases in Saudi Arabia.
|Disaster No.||Disaster subtype||Start date||End date||Total deaths||Total affected|
Source: CRED (2015b)
If we consider economic damage, floods are the costliest disasters that are responsible for major losses. Since 2000, the country has already lost $1,200,000 (CRED, 2015c).
Certain factors hinder the reaction of people to natural hazards in Saudi Arabia as well as subsequent recovery efforts. They result from a social and demographic state of the country, where illiteracy and language barriers are quite common. The lack of education tells on people’s attitude to the importance of preparedness. Besides, most citizens are merely unable to read brochures or use other media, which places them on higher risk as they ignore all warnings. Immigrant workers who do not know the language is another problem since the media are in Arabic. These two factors make emergency preparedness highly complicated and sometimes unachievable (Dawod et al., 2013).
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Comparison with Countries of the Asian Region
If we compare natural disasters that are common for Saudi Arabia with those of
Bangladesh, we can conclude that they are both similar and different. For instance, floods (both riverine and flash) are encountered in both countries (Hay & Mimura, 2006). In Bangladesh, however, the consequences are much more deplorable. Floods have taken away 2761 lives since 2000 (CRED, 2015d). The country is not subjected to infectious disease but has a long list of other natural cataclysms that are considerably frequent. These are cyclone and storm surges, droughts, hail storms, landslides, earthquakes, erosion, tornado, etc. (Udomratn, 2008).
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Indonesia suffers from all kinds of hydrological disasters including flash floods, riverine floods, and landslides. The total number of deaths in these cataclysms since 2000 has amounted to 4912 (CRED, 2015e). Besides, the Indonesian population also experiences quite a lot of other natural catastrophes including earthquakes, droughts, storm and even volcanic activity. It implies that there are many more people who get affected them (Hay & Mimura, 2006).
Taiwan is a country that has to deal with the greatest number of disasters in the Asian region. It suffers from weak geological formation, steep slope, soil erosion, rather frequent earthquakes, landslides, heavy rains, floods, typhoons, etc. However, unlike Saudi Arabia, Taiwan has not experienced any kinds of infectious diseases. Tropical cyclone rates among the most frequent disasters and has caused 1257 deaths since 2000 (CRED, 2015f). The frequency and scale of each natural hazard vary from one area to another.
Despite being rather a hazardous region in many terms, Saudi Arabia can be called relatively stable in disaster prevention and mitigation. It has had substantial financial losses because of continuous floods; however, the death rates are much lower than those in Bangladesh, Indonesia or Taiwan. Besides, the country is not subject to numerous threats from other hydrological catastrophes, if compared with countries of the Asian region.
CRED (2015a). Hydrological disasters in Saudi Arabia.
CRED (2015b). Biological disasters in Saudi Arabia.
CRED (2015c). Insured losses in Saudi Arabia.
CRED (2015d). Disaster in Bangladesh.
CRED (2015e). Disasters in Indonesia.
CRED (2015f). Disasters in Taiwan.
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