View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cyclone Gonu: Time for Assessing Losses and Gains

Insurance Assessors are working overtime at present to process claims and establish the extent of the loss caused by the visit of Cyclone Gonu last week.

It is relatively easy to tot up the damage to carpets, electrical wiring, furniture, footpaths and the foundations of buildings. Beachside hotel and resort managers will not only be calculating the cost of the wreckage to their sandy beaches but the loss of guests last week and the effect on future bookings while services and expectations are being restored. Businesses and schools will have lost some days of trading and training. Of special concern has been the damage incurred by those in the fishing industry, not to mention the loss of fishing time, fish caught and the damage done to reefs and fishing grounds. The Municipality, Police, Civil Defence and related organizations will have requested their staff to do overtime and the building of rock walls to stay the tide will be extra items on the expense side of this month’s ledger.

Perhaps a harder, yet just as important exercise is to assess the emotional impact that such an event is having on people, families and the community. The loss of loved ones, the act of being evacuated, the invasion and damage to one’s ‘castle’, the death of pets are all experiences that can induce shock, prompt ongoing trauma and trigger the various signs of grief. We can feel these things deeply but we can underestimate their effect because they are not usually visible to us or to others. We can think that everything within us should be OK as soon as the carpets have been dried and the rubble has been removed from the front lawn. But often the focus on the physical cleanup can delay our attention to our emotional debris. The truth is that these losses can influence our lives for months and years. They do not go away by ‘sweeping them under the Persian rug’ and adopting the stiff upper lip. We need to talk to a good friend or a confidential counselor who understands and affirms the reality of our loss and can help us assess the power of these emotions. To seek such help is not a sign of weakness. Such therapy for broken hearts and dashed hopes is as essential as seeking skilled medical care for a broken limb. It is important to look out for the telltale signs in ourselves and in others—our niggliness, anger, tiredness and depression.

Of special importance is to be alert to the signs of trauma and anxiety in children who may not be able to articulate their fear in words but may communicate through sleeplessness, stroppiness and heaving toys across the room.

When many are feeling bereft it is a delicate matter to suggest that our assessment of Cyclone Gonu should also seek to identify the gains. Such an exercise should in no way minimize the enormity of one’s loss or be an encouragement to adopt a ‘Pollyanna attitude.’ While people waited and watched the tides getting higher last week, there was an amazing sense of community. The growing threat was a common talking point. The disaster was disarming and it had a leveling effect. People talked to each other in ways that disregarded social position. We sensed a solidarity through the crisis that transcended the walls of culture, religion and gender. People reached out to others in a myriad of practical ways that communicated more powerfully than words and were understood exactly, regardless of our language.

Didn’t we also sense a connection with the international community as the media named the crisis and the peoples of Oman, the UAE and Iran? Perhaps for the very first time Fujairah was not only mentioned by the international media but this far-flung eastern city upstaged Dubai in publicity and global recognition.

The reception of emails and comments in newspapers and on web sites from people in many different countries made us aware and appreciate afresh the concern and basic goodness of humankind. The interest and expressions of care from groups such as those in the Hurricane Katrina Community is testimony to the amazing fellowship that there is in suffering and hope. These are some of the very positive things that many are already glimpsing as we begin to do a Cyclone Gonu stock take.

This story may be apocryphal but why let the truth get in the way of a good story!? When the Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) was asked to assess the impact of the French revolution (1789-1799), he replied, “It’s far too early to say.” In a similar vein, it is far too soon to assess the full impact of Cyclone Gonu but it is not too early to begin.

Geoff Pound

Image: Fujairah and surrounding region on the map.