The following article has been posted here at the time of the great international operation to help the people of Nepal from their terrible earthquake. It claims that the technology exists to reduce deaths. One key reason as to why little has been done to do anything about this is because of the lack of finance. This is indicated in the article. With Transfinancial Economics such funding could be given in full, or in part to help facilitate change the development needed to tackle earthquakes. See http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Transfinancial_Economics
You hear that line from seismologists whenever a deadly quake strikes. And it's become horrifically relevant again Saturday, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, leaving at least 4,000 dead (and counting).
The basic truth is that earthquakes are much, much deadlier in places where buildings are poorly constructed, unreinforced, and not designed to withstand shaking. Kathmandu, Nepal, was a gruesome example: observers told CNN that buildings in the city often aren't up to code. As a result, a shallow quake easily turned the city into rubble, trapping people underneath.
The tragedy here is that humans possess the technology to reduce earthquake deaths. Vulnerable regions like California, Japan, and Chile have taken steps to reinforce their buildings and dramatically reduce their risks over the past century. So why hasn't this happened in countries like Nepal or Iran or Pakistan, where experts have warned again and again that massive earthquakes are inevitable?
This difficult question was explored in an important 2013 paper in Science by Brian Tucker, founder of GeoHazards International.Often, he points out, it's a funding problem, particularly for poorer countries. In some cases, there might be unique obstacles at work (in Nepal, civil unrest made the task of retrofitting even harder). But, in many areas, there are psychological barriers — people simply aren't even thinking about preparing for earthquakes.
"The psychological reasons we don't prepare for earthquakes are often ignored," says Tucker, whose nonprofit has been working to reduce casualties from natural disasters. "Just as an example, we still find a lot of people who think of earthquakes solely as an act of god — and don't think about the very real ways to reduce risks."
Poor countries are falling behind at preparing for earthquakes
These countries all sit around the northern edge of the Arabian and Indian tectonic plates that are colliding up against the southern edge of the Eurasian plates. This is the same process that has created the soaring Himalayan mountains. But these sliding plates can also produce massive earthquakes in the area — like the one that devastated Nepal this week:
Everyone knows this is a seismically active zone. Massive earthquakes are basically inevitable. Yet throughout the region, buildings are often shoddily constructed and topple easily in earthquakes.
In a 2013 paper for Science, Roger Bilham and Vinod Gaur took stock of this problem. Throughout the region, contractors often fail to adhere to building codes. Oftentimes, what building codes do exist only apply to civic structures — not the places where people live. The result? In an earthquake these shoddy buildings collapse and lots of people die.
Tucker says there are lots of reasons for this:
1) Rapid population growth. For starters, the population is growing extremely fast in many developing countries — particularly as more and more people move to cities. "So when you have this tremendous demand to build hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, it's very difficult to build good buildings at the rate that is needed," he says. The graph below shows that the number of people who live near earthquake zones in developing countries keeps soaring:
This was a factor in Nepal, where people were fleeing civil unrest in the countryside and moving to cities. That made the task of retrofitting buildings even more difficult.
2) A lack of funding. Funding is another problem, particularly for poorer countries. In his 2013 paper, Tucker notes that only about 1 percent of all disaster aid actually goes to prevention. The United States and other wealth countries give a fair bit of money to nations that have been devastated by earthquakes — we devote a lot less toward preventing them in the first place.
3) Corruption and weak governance. It's significantly harder for countries in earthquake zones with corruption problems to enforce their building codes. "You can't just retrofit buildings and enforce building codes," says Tucker. "You also have to fight corruption."
4) Complacency and other psychological barriers. This is another big one. Tucker notes that too many countries don't take the risk of earthquakes seriously enough. This is particularly true in poorer countries that often have more immediate concerns, such as poverty or even pollution. "Humans respond to threats that are personal and visible or rapidly changing," he says. "Earthquakes and climate change are examples of slow-moving problems that we just have not evolved to respond well to."
This complacency can take a variety of forms. For instance, Tucker recalls a meeting in the mid-1990s with a minister of Nepal, who told him that Nepal had no need to worry about another earthquake because "Nepal had already had its big one in 1934." (This despite earthquake experts warning that Kathmandu was extremely vulnerable.)
In other areas, he notes, religion can be a barrier — people view earthquakes as an act of god. "I've had people say that what I'm doing is blasphemous," he says. "That's just nuts."
Countries often only take action after tragedy strikes
In his 2013 paper, Tucker examines Chile and Haiti as a stunning exercise in contrasts. In 1960, a magnitude-9.5 earthquake struck Chile, after which the country embarked on a massive earthquake-safety program and enforcing new building codes. By contrast, Haiti did nothing during this period, lulled into complacency by a lack of seismic activity and hampered by constant political unrest and extreme poverty.
Then, in early 2010, two similar earthquakes struck the two countries. Only about 0.1 percent of Chileans affected by the magnitude-8.8 earthquake died. By contrast, 11 percent of Haitians affected by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake with similar shaking died . "In other words," Tucker wrote in his 2013 paper, "Haitian buildings appear to be 100 times as lethal as Chilean
We may need public health campaigns for earthquakes
Second — and this was surprising — he mentioned that foreign-owned luxury hotels were often a good place to start reinforcing buildings. The reason? It creates incentives for competitors to also start reinforce their hotels. And it provides jobs for masons and architects, who learn how to build buildings up to code.
Still, it's far better for countries to start preparing for earthquakes before tragedy strikes. And, on that score, our current method of dealing with earthquakes seems to be failing. Tucker suggests that earthquake experts may need to start trying public health-style campaigns — "similar to the ones that get people to use seatbelts or quit smoking."
In his 2013 paper, he noted that an earthquake campaign would have to have many facets — not just information, but also incentives to increase preparedness. "Publishing statistics on the increasing occurrence of lung cancer and auto fatalities was not sufficient; nor were photos of black, leathery lungs on cigarette packages or photos in driver education movies of gory accident scenes. Taxes, fines, and opprobrium were used. ... The earthquake
risk reduction community might find effective lessons, models, and tactics from studying those public health campaigns."
Importantly, however, he concludes that the world's current strategies for cutting down on earthquake risk aren't working. Twice as many people died from earthquakes in the decade between 2001 and 2012 as died in the previous two decades combined. And those deaths are only likely to increase in the future as more people move to seismically active areas.
"More of the same," he concluded, "is not enough."