Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Yet another "natural" disaster

As the death toll climbs it is once again apparent that even a “natural” disaster such as an earthquake can be mitigated…with money.

‘If we had money we would have built a strong house,’ says one woman who, like hundreds of thousands of others across Nepal, has been left homeless. “But we had none. There is no place to go. There is no one to look after us. Life was hard for us already. I don’t want to be alive,” she said. 

What all the casualties mostly share is that they are poor. Though some had predicted that an earthquake in Kathmandu would bring the newly constructed cement apartment blocks tumbling down, it was the older, brick and wood homes that, almost exclusively, were reduced to rubble. Anyone who stayed in these could not afford better.

“It’s obvious” said Bhaskar Gautam, a local sociologist “The wealthier you are, the stronger the house you have,” .

Often four or five storeys high and subdivided into cheap family apartments like tenements in Victorian London, the homes of people have long been known as a risk. The family’s home was their “bad luck”. “We should have moved 20 years ago,” said one victim.

Thousands are still camping on open spaces, frightened to return to their homes. Some say they will wait until 72 hours have passed, but continuing aftershocks scare. Many, too, are still seeking treatment for bad injuries, some waiting outside hospitals. The morgue at Bir hospital, the city’s biggest, is overflowing, with bodies now lined up outside.

There is also the fear of disease. “Now there could be communicable illnesses, diarrhea, flu and so forth. The earthquake will have broken all the sewers and pipes so the water supply will be contaminated,” said Dr Sameer Thapa

It is necessary to understand why the poor suffer more even in natural calamities. The world is structured in such a way the poor bear the brunt. Poor people are and will be always most susceptible to disasters and unpredictability (natural, financial, wars, etc.). They are unable to invest in preventive, security, education and often lack surplus for relocation or compensation. Poorer communities take far longer to rebuild and are far more to likely to disease, aftershocks and becoming further impoverished because they cannot to afford to privately re-build, move temporarily or simply migrate to another area. 

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