Unnatural disasters

Women reach out for packets of rice from a relief van in a village near Cuddalore, 185km south-west of Chennai.
Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty;
Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/gall/0,8542,1380675,00.html

As a kid I always struggled conceptually with the notion of ‘natural disaster’. What’s ‘natural’ about a disaster? Is it a term made up by insurance companies? Certainly the events of the last few days have been very unnatural, so much so that I’ve had difficulty getting my head around it all. Spending Christmas in Malacca with my family meant I was close to the epicentre of the earthquake, and not far south of the tidal waves, and yet I was completely oblivious to it all until a mate from Australia called me on my mobile to see if I was ok. It seems that the island of Sumatra acted as a shield. Back in Singapore this week, I’ve been taking big gulps of carbon monoxide fumes on Shenton Way with glee and life doesn’t seem quite as mundane as it did before Christmas. I’ve also been reading about the personal grief and the eyewitness accounts of individuals at The Guardian weblog. It is very humbling.