Natural Disaster

February 4, 2013

You know one wonderful quality South Africa has that often gets lost amidst the collective angst about crime?

It is a country almost entirely devoid of natural disasters.

Note that I said "almost," before you start trembling with indignation about my demeaning your disastrous-ness in any way (I already created an uproar by recently demeaning your toilet-plunger prowess).

Thinking it a good idea to supplement my personal observation with some data, I Googled the matter, and of course found lots and lots of natural disasters afflicting South Africa.

There are the floods, of course. Something we actually witnessed ourselves, if not first-hand, but 2-weeks-removed-from-first-hand. The beautiful camp we had stayed at over New Year's of 2011/2012, Kitara, was literally swept away just after we had been there. It's taken a full year to rebuild it, in time for this New Year's, giving you an idea how complete the destruction was. Floods during the rainy season are definitely a big part of life in South Africa, as much as drought is the rest of the time.

Photo of pool deck at Kitara Jan 2012 courtesy of Klaserie Camps. Go to their website to see
how it's been rebuilt and how you can make a booking. It's a beautiful corner of the world. 

Then there is the lightning. You'll have heard it said that death by lightning rates are high in South Africa, particularly in the Highveld region, and if you've witnessed any of the frequent summer storms in Gauteng you'll agree that the lightning there is particularly scary. To combat the risk of disappearing for three days onto one of my internet binges and reading every online study discussing the merits of such claims, I didn't delve any further to provide a definitive answer.

I don't think, though, that moving to Johannesburg will put you at a particularly high risk of being struck by lighting. Which is not true for your computer and TV; they WILL be struck for sure if you don't run to unplug everything at the first sign of a dark cloud. But that is another matter.

One of my favorite pictures among the ones I took in South Africa. Because that was
before my photography class and learning about keeping the lens open and all such
tricks. I simply pressed the shutter at the right moment. Taken in front of our house.

What else? Fire. We should know. We played with it (though not intentionally). As in any place exposed to prolonged droughts, South Africa suffers wildfires quite frequently. Though they are often man-made. People in townships are at particular risk due to unattended kerosene stoves during long winter nights.

Then there is another disaster-in-waiting that so far has gotten little attention: The groundwater poisoning, particularly in the area around Johannesburg, due to years and years of mining and a build-up of toxic water underground, the level of which is apparently rising year-to-year at an alarming rate. If you live in Dainfern under that shit-pipe, you could literally face a situation where you simultaneously get squeezed by toxic waste from above and below.

Maybe it's a good thing we got out in time.

AIDS, of course, is still one of the biggest disasters looming over South Africa, despite several years of significant progress.

And I'm sure you could somehow bring locust plagues and rinderpest into this discussion if you really wanted to go to town.

But despite all of this, and especially if you are living in a proper house with the benefit of some education, you'll be safer from natural disasters in South Africa than just about anywhere else in the world. Earthquakes are practically unheard of, as are hurricanes (though there are instances of reported tornadoes), and the coastline along the Indian ocean is entirely protected from tsunamis (as witnessed in 2004) by the shelter provided by Madagascar.

If my sample size of one is anything to go by (it usually is, on this blog), then natural disasters play a much bigger part in the life of the average U.S. resident compared to his or her South African counterpart.

I was reminded of this just three weeks into our new life in Tennessee, when we found ourselves huddled under blankets in the basement at 3:30 a.m., listening to the eerie wail of a tornado siren in the distance and torrential rain and wind gusts taking turns on our windows.

But seeing as this blog post is already rather long, THAT story (and the actual point of this post - forgive me for always getting side-tracked) will have to wait until the next one.

To be continued...

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