There’s a funny old saying in Geology that goes along the lines of “Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do”. Whilst that quote may be true, it does sound rather unsympathetic. Irresponsible, perhaps. What makes this saying worse is that most earthquake victims are from third world countries. Third world countries where suitable building materials aren’t a choice therefore we might as well be saying “It’s tough luck you made your house out of bricks, sand and water, poor little man!”
That would make a rather sad fairy tale!
We are very lucky to be born into unique cultures we grow up in. It is by chance that a world of water orbits a fire ball whilst a moon controls the tide. Although, it is more of a miracle that some of us are born to middle class families in first world countries. Millions of people have the other side of that lucky coin where they are born into poorly developed countries with the threat of natural disasters. Some of us should be helping these less fortunate souls by realising how lucky we are.
There’s a clear relationship between geohazards and poverty, but more importantly – what can we do to eradicate it?
The most important action is to be pro-active about it. Thankfully, the most recent 7.8 earthquake in Nepal made people realise how unprepared parts of the world are. It was a massive wake up call that had been heavily due! I’ve volunteered in NGO work to combat poverty in less developed regions in Aisa and the work they do is incredible. Believe me, the sports coaching, conservation and teaching is unbelievably valuable. However, if we don’t plan now then the cycle will continue and will show no sign of being solved. Every earthquake has similar knock-on effects that you find in a student textbook – human trafficking, robbery, etc. Natural disasters misplace people because lives are lost and properties are ruined, therefore if we don’t address the cause of the problem we’ll end up in the never-ending story. Instead of spending billions of dollars or pounds on Post-relief disasters, we could be spending millions on preparedness. Japan has led by example and benefitted from the results. It’s on the verge of joining the list of MEDC’s and now has an ageing culture because life-expectancy is so high.
Brian Tucker, an American Geophysicist, has mentioned how Geohazards International are working on projects in Western Sumatra before the next Tsunami is due in our children’s lifetime. Lessons have been learnt here so we know how to prepare for the next one. Even though it could happen at any minute. Mr Tucker talked about proposals for a large manmade hill which locals could evacuate to just 30 minutes after experiencing the earthquake. Something that wouldn’t be possible without the amazing help of organisations, such as GHI.
It’s also ironic how kids in Britain learn all there is about earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides (we even have volcano top trumps!) but never experience them. Whereas the people who are actually in the mess at that time have no clue how to deal with the situation. It feels like a weird version of the hunger games where ‘the educated’ look on in curiosity whilst the helpless ones have to battle their way through a war planned out by Mother Nature. It only seems fair that a child in Indonesia is taught about the dangers and beauties of a volcano if the rest of us know about it. And that’s easy to do in this world. That’s why education for the next generation about the threats of climate change and geohazards will be significant. As in life-savingly significant.
As you can see from these case studies, infrastructure is the key. Seismologists, volcanologists and engineering geologists will need to come together in the next 15 years to implement research and practise to support global goals. Scientists can’t predict anything but forecasts can help build life-safe buildings. With their help, anything is possible and more people can live without fear of the next big one. As they say, earthquakes don’t kill people – buildings do.