Alaskans ready for disaster?

Posted: Thursday, November 03, 2005

You need only to go to a grocery store on a weekday afternoon to realize that many Alaskans are not prepared for a disaster like last December's tsunami, hurricane Katrina or the Pakistan earthquake. "I don't have time to cook," a fellow shopper said as he presented his microwaveable meals to the cashier.

Lack of time isn't the problem; lack of food, is. Ask yourself: How many days of food and water do you have in your cupboards?

In the national debate Katrina has triggered over emergency preparedness (sending communities to recheck disaster responses), experts say one element should not be overlooked: To be prepared, we should think in terms of seven days of food, water, shelter and other supplies, not just three.

Alaskans need to be less dependent on imported food. Consider this: A conventional head of lettuce travels an estimated 2,500 miles from farm to plate. To shorten this distance, more food should be grown in home gardens, fields and greenhouses. Doing so would also reduce transportation costs and increase the food's nutritional quality.

The state of Alaska should not only encourage these local efforts, but follow a global trend by developing and implementing a sustainable food policy. Vancouver, British Columbia, has adopted such a policy, and Finland, as the northernmost country in the world to have an active commercial agriculture industry, supports 8,000 farming businesses, most of which are family-owned. Though one-third of Finland lies within the Arctic Circle, 60 percent of the value of agricultural production is grown in greenhouses; 40 percent in open fields. Closer to home, the village of Chickaloon has reduced its dependence on imported foods by maintaining a community garden and a four-season greenhouse.

In a column by Alaska science writer Ned Rozell (Anchorage Daily News, Oct. 9) provided a reality check. "In this world of highways and frequent flights from the Lower 48, Alaska-grown crops and animals account for only about 10 percent of what Alaskans consume. But the potential for more is here."

If an earthquake, tsunami, flood or other disaster struck your community, where would you go for food, the grocery store?

It's food for thought.

Marion Owen, Kodiak

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