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John Roughan: A Creeping Disaster?

A Creeping Disaster?

By John Roughan
5 September 2005

'Rapid' disasters--tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, even cyclones--come suddenly and most go away almost as quickly. All disasters, however, change people's lives, alter their way of thinking but most of the time, those affected by nature's power blasts just want to get back to normal life patterns. Hurricane Katrina which recently tore up the southern part of the United States was no exception.

Winds and water basically wiped out New Orleans, a city of over a million people. Its mayor has had to inform its people that the city will not be opening for business anytime soon. This storm has become America's own tsunami.

New Orleans people, however, just want to get back to normal living, get on with their lives as before, and to re-build their shattered lives, homes and property. Within a few months, certainly within a year or two, the memory of this terrible event will have faded a bit and their normal lives, except for the great number of deaths, will begin to look and feel 'normal' once again. But this is what happens in a 'rapid' disaster! Devastation, destruction and dislocation are all too evident and are so clear in the minds of people but basically familiar life patterns return again..

But a slow motion disaster, one that creeps up on a people slowly over a period of time, brings much deeper and more profound change. Such a disaster hits a people quite differently. One doesn't see much destruction and probably little devastation But a deep change of life style, of how a people normally live, brings profound change..

At this very moment, the world of big countries, the giants of business, industry and commerce--US, Europe, Japan, most rich nations--are nervously looking over their collective shoulders. Leaders of these countries are worried sick at the relentless rise of energy prices.

For so long now, the whole of the 20th century in fact, rich nations counted on a reliable supply of cheap energy--oil and its many products. This one product--the developed country's black gold--lies at the heart of what makes the big countries, small ones as well, tick. Literally oil is their life blood and currently it's getting mighty thin. Every major nation is addicted to cheap, plentiful and available energy. The whole way of life of developed as well as developing ones--motoring, flying, trucking, pumping, anything and everything--is tied up with cheap, reliable and plenty of energy in the form of oil.

If this be the case for big, powerful and rich nations, it's happening here right now under our own noses as well. Slowly the price of petrol, diesel, kerosene, lubricant oil, etc. etc. has marched higher and higher by the month. Last year diesel, for instance, cost about $3.00 a litre. Currently both petrol and diesel are over $5.50 a litre at the pump and their prices are marching higher by the month. The chances of these sliding back to the $3.00 or $4.00 per litre any time soon is remote indeed.

The Solomons yearly import of energy--petrol, diesel, kerosene, oil--is over $90 million with only food imports topping the fuel bill by another $22 million. We can't afford such a drain on our small cash base. As the price of this necessary power item rises, we face a major problem of coming to grip with a slow moving disaster. Of course now we sadly dish out more and more of our few dollars to pay for less and less fuel, thinking that we have no alternative.

Inter-island shipping, cars, buses, trucks would slowly grind to a complete halt in a matter of months if oil prices go higher and higher out of the reach of most of us. Lunga's electricity plant and the town's water pumps linked to it would stop running in quick time as well. Yet this dark picture needn't be our future at all.

The best way to beat any disaster, man or nature's, is to plan for it well and well ahead in time. Counting on a major reversal of oil prices in the near future is just not on. However, if government would policy-back a biodiesel industry using coconut oil, not only could it stabilize our energy prices but more importantly boost village livelihoods. In fact, our creeping disaster could turn out to be a win-win situation: lower prices for energy and a serious investment in villagers' lives.


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