Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Politics of Earthquakes

Let me draw your attention to a very interesting and thought-provoking article published by The Los Angeles Times, and written by Claire Berlinksi. The article, The Politics of Earthquakes, outlines how corruption, law enforcement and politics can significantly influence the impact of an earthquake on a major urban area. As Berlinksi writes, "seismic risk mitigation is the greatest urban policy challenge the world confronts today."

The article highlights the huge seismic risk to many of the world's largest cities - cities such as Tehran, Istanbul, Lima, Islamabad, Mexico City and Kathmandu. Cities which are undergoing rapid (and often uncontrolled) urbanisation. It is often stated that the way to reduce risk in these cities is to promote economic development - seismic-proofing a city costs money, and thus is not a possibility for less economically developed countries. 

However, the article points out the vast differences between Turkey and Chile - with similar GDP per capita. A massive M8.8 earthquake struck Chile in 2010, outside the city of Concepcion, leaving 521 dead. While any death toll is tragic, Chile's commendable preparedness and enforcement of building standards meant this was not significantly higher. Berlinkski, however reports that the situation in Turkey is very different. Despite their GDP per capita being very similar, preparedness is not at the same level. There is neither the same structural soundness of buildings, enforcement of building regulations or public awareness campaigns.

Reducing the impacts of earthquakes and other hazards, therefore, is not simply a case of economic development. There is also a huge need to tackle corruption, have good urban planning, enforce building regulation and lead better preparedness campaigns. There is a big responsibility on (a) national and regional governments to enforce regulation and coordinate preparedness measures, (b) international governments to lobby those countries at risk and promote safe urban expansion and disaster risk reduction, (c) local communities to respond willingly and effectively to government measures, not to encourage corruption and to take responsibility for preparing their household.