The Ebola outbreak is, almost certainly, a precursor for a future pandemic that will be much worse.
The current California drought is, almost certainly, a precursor of more to come.
The recent series of cyber-attacks are, almost certainly, a precursor of many more — and much worse — to come.
The intention of Australian terrorists to undertake random attacks is, almost certainly, a precursor for such attacks there and elsewhere.
In each case a current threat-vector is amplified by human behavior, especially increased population density and mobility. Ebola is naturally occurring. Until the last four decades its natural range was isolated from humans and, especially, human networks. Drought is naturally occurring in the American West and Southwest. Until the last six decades, this region was sparsely populated. Never before has so much monetary value been so concentrated and (at least virtually) proximate. Violence is naturally occurring in human populations, its mimetic mutations now facilitated by many more of us in communication, contact, and perceived competition.
In the case of Ebola, the rapidly increasing population of Guinea (Conakry) — up 220 percent since 1960 — has created substantial ecological and economic stress. This has been especially the case in the forested uplands of Eastern Guinea neighboring Liberia where the current outbreak first emerged. With about 70 people per square kilometer this region has twice the density of the Virginia county where I live. It’s less than 300 miles to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, which has a population density of 600 per square kilometer. No wonder Monrovia has been hit so hard.
We don’t know precisely when or how the virus was transferred to humans in this epidemic, but consumption of bushmeat infected with the virus is a good guess. That has been the origin in several previous — but much smaller — outbreaks in Congo and Gabon.
(Reuters) – An outbreak of hemorrhagic fever has killed at least 23 people in Guinea’s southeastern forest region since February when the first case was reported, health authorities in the West African nation said on Wednesday.
At least 35 cases have been recorded by local health officials, said Sakoba Keita, the doctor in charge of the prevention of epidemics in Guinea’s Health Ministry.
“Symptoms appear as diarrhea and vomiting, with a very high fever. Some cases showed relatively heavy bleeding,” Keita said.
“We thought it was Lassa fever or another form of cholera but this disease seems to strike like lightning. We are looking at all possibilities, including Ebola, because bushmeat is consumed in that region and Guinea is in the Ebola belt,” he said. No cases of the highly contagious Ebola fever have ever been recorded in the country. (March 19)
Well into summer I assumed this Ebola outbreak would be contained as others have been contained. I neglected to notice that this time the threat had emerged in a region much more densely populated than previous outbreak zones (and with much easier access to even more densely populated areas). I overestimated the vigilance and capacity of the World Health Organization. I underestimated the power-amplifiers of human need and social interaction and fear… multiplied exponentially as the vector penetrates more deeply into the matrix.
This is how it happens. Prior success encourages undue confidence. And maybe you’re a bit distracted. The threat morphs and emerges into — then out of — a different context. So it may not initially be recognized. The critical contextual cues are unnoticed. The threat is given time and space to strengthen. This is especially likely to happen with places or people already neglected.
What worked last time is not quite calibrated with the new context. Besides, for many of those engaging this threat, this is their first time. Former lessons have not been learned, are being re-learned. This threat in this place is in many respects unique — at least in the experience of those who confront it this time.
It is a threat that, if recognized early-on, might be quickly suppressed or contained. But instead it proliferates, filling the void opened by neglect. Thus amplified the threat is much more likely to find and exploit vulnerabilities; even those that until the threat’s emergence were seen as strengths. Which is typically how tragedy unfolds, when what had been strong makes us weak.