On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the nation of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. With the epicenter of the quake just 15 miles away from Port-au-Prince, the nation’s largest city, the devastation was complete and catastrophic. More than 300,000 people died, while 1 million additional people were made homeless due to the quake.
In such a poor country, people could not afford to build structures to withstand any significant tremor. Many buildings were constructed with flimsy materials and were not reinforced with anything. Indeed, even the Presidential Palace collapsed from the burden of its load. In addition, the lack of a strong government institutional structure prevented aid from being quickly distributed to those in need. Foreign aid groups had to pick up the slack, especially with respect to the logistical operations of the aid mission.
As a counterpoint, consider the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan in March. Despite an earthquake many times as powerful as the one that stuck Haiti, the death toll was approximately 15,000, a fraction of the loss of life in Haiti. As it would turn out, much of the devastation would be caused by the tsunami produced by the earthquake, not by the quake itself.
Japan, which has long been accustomed to earthquake activity, has spend billions of dollars to modernize its infrastructure, implementing stringent building codes to help structures withstand large quakes. In addition, Japan has invested much money in building sea walls, precisely to protect its coast for the types of tsunamis that ultimately overwhelmed them. Japan, with a gross domestic product of 5 trillion, had the resources necessary to aid those in need quickly, helping to reduce the loss of life.
In short, developed nations have the resources necessary to build infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters. Even when they do fail, developed nations are able to maintain complex logistical operations to aid in the aftermath. However, developing nations have a hard time even responding to the needs of its citizens in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a fact that is just compounded by their poverty. The end result is needless death and destruction.
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