How Too Much Religiosity Can be Dangerous in Times of Calamities
by Joshua Villalobos
“It is their fault because they didn’t leave.”
“They deserve that; They should have evacuated.”
These are the common lines of victim-blaming that circulate after a strong typhoon or a serious calamity happens. The concept of leavers (the ones who evacuate) and stayers (the ones who stay) are not unique to the Philippines but a common occurrence in different parts of the world.
During Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, there are also a lot of stayers despite early warning signals (EWS) at that time. A 2009 study then followed entitled Why Did They ‘‘Choose’’ to Stay? Perspectives of Hurricane Katrina Observers and Survivors by Stanford and Princeton University researchers exploring various socio-cultural and psychological reasons why some people choose to stay.
Business World reporter Jasmine Cruz has put it well and consulted the researchers on how the research applies to Philippine-setting after the Yolanda onslaught in 2013. (Link: Why don’t they evacuate?)
Another study done in Asia, Oceana, and Africa published in 2019 revealed that some people in Bangladesh and Nepal are hesitant to respond to early warning signals because “God would save them no matter where they were.” They believed that either they go to the evacuation centers or stay at their homes, a God will protect and save them from the impacts of the disaster.
“I survived because Allah helped me. There were so many buildings that got washed away, but my house still stands,” one of the interviewees of the research that survived Cyclone Sidr and Mahasen.
“No one can save us but Allah. The NGOs [non‐governmental organizations] cannot do anything. If Allah does not want you to survive, all your efforts will be in vain and you will die,” he added.
They also understand disasters in the religious perspective as God’s punishment for their wrongdoings; hence they must accept it or that God is in control of all hazards, and He will not let his people down.
“Why are there so many disasters? Because we must have left his [Allah’s] path. Women are working outside the house and going here and there,” another interviewee commented.
While we respect these cultural and religious differences in seeing the world and its realities, we need to remember that most of the time, the people who stayed in their houses and refused to evacuate are always among that calamity’s casualties.
In a highly religious country like the Philippines, this line of thinking is not new to us. We have the “bahala na” culture that is very reflective of the population’s devout Catholic faith and religious fatalism.
Congruently, we are also among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, experiencing an average of 20 typhoons a year.
Some people might simplify stayers as stupid and irrational but Sociologist Dr. Emma Porio of Ateneo de Manila University said that these people are not stupid and irrational.
“It’s just their structure of rationality is different,” she added.
- Cruz, J. (2013, November 15). Why don’t they evacuate? Business World. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Weekender&title=why-dont-they-evacuate&id=79393
- Ayeb‐Karlsson, S., Kniveton, D., Cannon, T., Geest, K., Ahmed, I., Derrington, E., . . . Opondo, D. (2019, September 02). I will not go, I cannot go: Cultural and social limitations of disaster preparedness in Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/disa.12404