Gene Expression

Is Sidr a sign of progress?

It’s almost Friday here in the United States. The latest update I can find is that 200 people have died due to typhoon Sidr. These are almost certainly “early returns,” and the numbers will keep going up. Like pre-modern battles most of the fatalities won’t be directly due to the cyclone. Social disturbances, and likely outbreaks of disease (cholera) are going to take their their toll. That being said, at this point I think it is important to have a sense of perspective. A cyclone in 1991 killed 138,000 people and left 10 million homeless (I heard from relatives who told of how they had to set up shelters on their roofs and boil water for months). The 1970 cyclone was even worse, some estimates say that 500,000 people were killed (though a more usual number is around 300,000). In non-cyclone related natural disasters, a 1974 famine resulted in 26,000 deaths. The Bengal famine of 1943 left 1.5-3 million dead in its wake. Though a 1770 famine wiped out 1/3 of the region’s population.

I repeat this litany to offer optimistic note: things are getting better! Bangladesh is a depressing kleptocracy, but it muddles along, and the arrow of progress is in a positive direction. There was a definite improvement in public facilities & transportation networks between 1990 and 2004, the two times I’ve been back. A proliferation of NGOs means that some of my cousins are now opting to stay home instead of looking for jobs with multinational corporations abroad or relocating for decades to the Persian Gulf. And, it is a good thing when my uncle complains that he had to drive 100 miles out into the country to find an appropriate servant for his family (most of the socioeconomic stratum which would have satisfied this niche is now being absorbed by the textile industry).

I’m hoping I won’t have to change the tone of this post with an update when I get up tomorrow morning. As usual, check in on Rezwanul & Intersection for updates.

Update: 600 dead. Rezwanul has a post up very similar to mine.


  1. #1 Caledonian
    November 16, 2007

    And yet another person totally misses the point.

    There may be an interesting question buried somewhere in all that dross, through: given that various Third-World regions face similar challenges to constructing functional modern societies (nutritional problems, lack of infrastructure, possible differences in gene distribution), what factors are responsible for the success of some attempts at change and the failure of others? How can the factors associated with success be best inculcated? And how can we tell where humanitarian efforts are most likely to yield real and lasting benefits?

  2. #2 Amit
    November 16, 2007

    I hope that your family is OK, Razib.

  3. #3 Caledonian
    November 16, 2007

    My post read somewhat differently before the post formerly preceding it was removed.

    Considering how vulnerable the area is, and how severe this storm seems to be, it’s remarkable how (relatively) minor the consequences of it have been thus far. Of course, we don’t know how serious it’s really been until long after the storm passes.

  4. #4 razib
    November 16, 2007

    I hope that your family is OK, Razib.

    well, this is a class issue. i haven’t lost any near family members (out to cousins) in any of the cyclones of the past few cyclones.

  5. #5 pconroy
    November 17, 2007


    Isn’t it always a class issue when natural disasters hit – remember Katarina in New Orleans?!

    Also true during the Great Irish Famine – the most destitute segment of society was devastated, while those of reasonable means actually prospered – yes prospered! They could buy up land for next to nothing from those who were starving to death – much like the sub-prime mortgage fiasco as well of course!

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