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With an airplane exploding, bridges collapsing, and a nuclear plant shutting down, it has been a summer of disasters. Around the globe since May, no continent has been left untouched — whether by fire, flood, tornado, airplane crash or a collapsing mine. Disasters, clearly, do not take summer vacations. As someone said, there is no cure for nature, but neither is there for human oversight. What this summer has seen is the strongest of nature, and the weakest of human prevention.

Nature has its effects, but most horrifying disasters are stamped with human incompetence and mismanagement from beginning to end. A train derailing in the Congo, bridges collapsing in Minnesota and China, mines collapsing in Russia, China and the United States, and an airplane crashing in Brazil, not to mention one catching fire in Okinawa, are all human-made disasters from start to finish. These tragedies do not just happen; they are caused.

The annual monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan cannot be stopped, but are predictable. What nature wreaks, humans make worse through overbuilding, deforestation and poor construction of dams and levees. The United Nations reports that 500 million people are hit every year by extreme flooding. The storms this year, especially in North Korea and China, were unexpectedly severe, yet since last year, very little had been accomplished in preparation. When human preparation is in place, nature’s havoc can at least be lessened.

What is the government role in all this? Apparently, making cost-cutting deals with major corporations. Mines, planes, trains and bridges are built and run by joint government-business agreements nowadays. Governments, whether they call themselves a democracy, federation, republic or people’s republic, all contract with corporations for public projects.

There are laws of course, but, as in the case of the United States where nearly one-third of bridges have been deemed “structurally deficient,” no one seems to really check. Any costs saved by so-called “public-private partnerships” clearly are not spent on safety inspections.

Governments need a reminder that their prime responsibility is to provide safe, efficient and working infrastructure. It may be an overused term, but infrastructure is not an underused reality. People trust that they can drive home on bridges (one collapsed in Minneapolis), take roller coasters (one killed a woman in Osaka), and ride up escalators (one cut off the toe of a young woman in Kawasaki on Aug. 12). The lack of inspection and simple attention is not just irresponsibility; it’s a crime.

Of course, responsibility takes money. A glance at budget figures, though, reveals mistaken priorities. In the U.S., for example, the current administration spends $8.6 billion a month in Iraq. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is charged with checking the country’s bridges, runs on an astoundingly minimal $6 million per month — more than a hundred times less. Soldiers are sent overseas, while their roads collapse at home. Japan should be careful not to end up in the same predicament.

The press has a role here, too. The focus of many news organizations is on grisly shock, rather than on followup investigations. Long-term reports require time and effort and do not photograph well. Though people cry over a quake-smashed house, they tend to fall asleep over the ins and outs of things like nuclear-plant inspection reports. Though in-depth reports on the larger causes of disasters and who’s really to blame are tedious and often dull, a balance can be found, especially since another headlining disaster is always coming up.

Most governments do display compassion over crises, offering recovery money and rescuers. Yet they should also take time beforehand to learn from the last disaster. The International Atomic Energy Agency came to the quake-hit Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant not to impose mandates but to learn for the future. If only China had sent inspectors to the Minneapolis bridge site, it might have learned something in time to save some of the 64 people who died in the Hunan bridge collapse.

Tragedies may fade from the front pages, but their effects are devastating over the long term. Tens of thousands of people can be affected by a “simple” flood. Decades of progress can be wiped out in an afternoon. Many communities crushed by the 2004 Sumatra tsunami are just now starting to get their micro-economies running again. The ripples of any disaster spread out across larger and larger areas as the processes of globalization interconnect the world. A rising tide lifts all boats, just as a sinking one lowers them.

Floods, storms, droughts and other natural disasters are cited in the oldest written records. Yet, they remain the least solved of mankind’s problems. One common goal of humanity should be to construct a common bond against nature, not against other humans. Disasters have a lot to teach; we only need to learn, and to act.

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