Learning from Nature: Responding to Natural Disaster and the Need for a Multi-faceted Approach in Law
This chapter attempts to discuss the link between the response of individuals and the State in times of natural disasters or calamities. The terrible disaster that struck some of the South and South Asian countries on 26 December 2004 provided ample opportunity for sociologists, and decision makers in matters affecting the public, to learn the behavioural pattern of individuals and the collective response coming in the form of State actions. At the time of the disaster, being a country torn apart by internal armed conflict, Sri Lanka had already suffered enough with a high toll of casualties. However, when the tsunami struck, violent politics was pushed back and humanity came to the forefront to play its real role. Those who watched the response from individuals, which cut across all barriers including the surrounding violent atmosphere, and compared it with the measures taken by the State in putting the relief machinery in motion, have tended to conclude that collective response is always constrained by extraneous elements. These elements are not ‘pure’ in their contribution towards alleviating the distress and suffering of the people at the time when it is relevant. The law, although considered to be collective wisdom and social response to human needs, sometimes fails to take into consideration the negative impacts of such extraneous elements which are inherent in all law-making endeavours. The raw human sentiments which flowed through the channel of humanity did not care for anything other than the cries in need coming from fellow human beings. It is proved that ‘collective wisdom’ cannot match the pace at which humanity flows, in the form of individual responses in cases of natural disaster; it is pure and natural in all its logic. In this sense, a question is raised as to whether there is any legitimacy in demanding obedience to the ‘collective wisdom’ which may actually play a negative role in the response to natural disasters.
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