Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti's Tragedy

From the Wall Street Journal, "Haiti's Tragedy: The U.S. Military Will Provide Relief, As Ever":

A man surveys hundreds of bodies of earthquake victims at the morgue in Port-au-Prince, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

The hand of a dead student is seen under the rubble of St. Gerard church and school that collapsed in an earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. Teachers and students are trapped underneath the rubble since Tuesday when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


The world has had sufficient experience with earthquake relief to know that the first 72 hours are critical. There may be hundreds of people or more buried alive in the rubble; their lives now depend on the speedy arrival of professional rescue teams. Thousands of people urgently need medical help, and many more will soon require tenting, clean water, food, toilets and other necessities if a secondary disaster is to be prevented. U.S. military assets are likely to play a crucial role in these efforts, as they did after the tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir—a fresh reminder that the reach of America's power coincides with the reach of its goodness.

The earthquake is also a reminder that while natural calamities do not discriminate between rich countries and poor ones, their effects almost invariably do. The 1994 Northridge quake was nearly as powerful as the one that struck Haiti, but its human toll was comparatively slight. The difference is a function of a wealth-generating and law-abiding society that can afford, among other things, the expense of proper building codes.

In the long term, the best defense against future natural disasters is to promote the political and economic conditions that can move people out of the slums and shanties that easily become death traps. For now, however, we wish godspeed to the armies of relief headed for Haiti's desperate shore.
See also, Laura Rozen, at Politico, "Ships, Troops Arriving in Haiti." And Tracy Kidder, at the New York Times, "Country Without a Net." (Via Memeorandum.)

Photo Credits: The Big Picture, "Haiti 48 Hours Later."


rileysfarm said...

"The difference is a function of a wealth-generating and law-abiding society that can afford, among other things, the expense of proper building codes..."

The average home-builder, in California, faces a gauntlet of development and land use fees that only marginally address safety. When human beings are forced to buy habitat preserve for endangered rats and insects and when the average young couple has to spend $2,000 on a water heater (to fund alternative energy research), we are seeing the high-tech version of third-world class hatred. With a few small exceptions (directly related to building codes and seismic requirements), the development expense is not about safety. It's about preventing anyone else from building in your corner of paradise.