Curtain Raiser

The Earth Moves; We Hurt, Colltalers

The mega earthquake that hit Nepal Saturday has already triggered a familiar set of obvious realizations, callous statements, and the usual few insights that could potentially make a difference going forward, but most likely will soon be ignored by all.
We’re sure that those who can help, will, and in fact, we wish to express our sadness and solidarity with the ones having their time of reckoning. But we can’t help it but see a worn out sequence of reactions about to play out as it has many times before.
As aftershocks and the search for victims continue, news coverage will be centered on the devastation and on calls for international aid in the weeks ahead, with the occasional proverbial digression about the unpredictability of natural disasters.
Not to be flippant, but one can be sure that there’ll be wall-to-wall reporting, dramatic rescue footage, and the customary show of human solidarity, which is authentic but fits a bit too snugly into the calculated media approach to this kind of tragedy.
And just as predictably, a few weeks down the road, news organizations are bound to switch gears, and divert our attention elsewhere – in all likelihood, to something tragic as well. For all but those directly affected by the quake, it’ll be a new morning.
For the Nepalese, of course, this darkest of the nights will remain just as bleak and insufferable for months and possibly years. Just as it happened in 1934, when the slightly more powerful Nepal-Bihar earthquake killed an estimated 17,000 people.
Casualties may be higher this time around. While it remains one of the world’s poorest countries, just as it was in the 1930s, Nepal’s population has swelled to 28-million people, almost six times what it was then, in a mostly chaotic and inordinate growth.
If there’s a parallel to Nepal’s quagmire it is, unfortunately, equally impoverished Haiti. The 2010 quake killed 200 thousand of its 10 million population, despite being less powerful than the one in Asia, and five years later, some parts of the country still look as if it it all happened yesterday. $10 billion in international aid has seemingly sunk in the open sewages of capital Port-au-Prince.
We’ll purposely skip over the aforementioned grandstanding we’re condemned to witness in times of grief and human misery, but let’s see what kind of non-obvious insights we can gather, without pontificating too much on someone else’s worst nightmare.
First, there’s the glaring irony that Mount Everest and the Himalayas, de facto drivers of Nepal’s economy, are also where a major earthquake seems to take place every 80 years or so. The giant mountains grow four millimeters annually exactly because of the unbelievable pressure between two tectonic plates under the Kathmandu Valley rubbing against each other for millions of years.
But that’s the inevitable part of the equation. Overpopulation, poor construction standards, and simply lack of urban planning, on the other hand, are at least technically, not as inevitable. Then again, considering the world’s current income distribution, Continue reading