Why the Haiti quake killed so many

Tectonic plate boundaries, showing the plate m...

‘In 1988, the Spitak magnitude-6.9 earthquake in Armenia took more than 25,000 lives. By contrast the magnitude-7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989 caused only 63 deaths. “The difference in the numbers of fatalities illustrates the huge effect that high building standards can have in saving people’s lives,” says DeMets.

The multi-storey concrete buildings that made up much of Port-au-Prince proved to be death traps when the earthquake struck. “The buildings were brittle and had no flexibility, breaking catastrophically when the earthquake struck,” says Ian Main, a seismologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

And the disaster was compounded by the earthquake’s shallow source. “With deep earthquakes the primary waves arrive first, giving you a bit of warning before the shear waves [responsible for shaking the ground from side to side] arrive,” says Uri ten Brink, an expert on earthquakes in the Caribbean from the US Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In Haiti the epicentre was so close to the surface that the primary and shear waves arrived almost at the same time.’ (New Scientist)

‘Don’t give money to Haiti’

Map of Haiti with Port-au-Prince shown

This is not your Pat Robertson rant about Haiti deserving to go under because of its pact with the Devil. What do you think of this argument?

‘…For one thing, right now there’s very little that can be done with the money. There are myriad bottlenecks and obstacles involved in getting help to the Haitians who need it, but lack of funds is not one of them. For the next few weeks, help will come largely from governments, who are also spending hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of soldiers to the cause. But with the UN alone seeking to raise $550 million, it’s going to be easy to say that all the money donated to date isn’t remotely enough.

The problem is that Haiti, if it wasn’t a failed state before the earthquake, is almost certainly a failed state now — and one of the lessons we’ve learned from trying to rebuild failed states elsewhere in the world is that throwing money at the issue is very likely to backfire.

What’s more, charities raising money for Haiti right now are going to have to earmark that money to be spent in Haiti and in Haiti only….

…It’s human nature to want to believe that in the wake of a major disaster, we can all do our bit to help just by giving generously. And if there’s a silver lining to these tragedies at all, it’s that they significantly increase the total amount of money donated to important charities by individuals around the world. But if a charity is worth supporting, then it’s worth supporting with unrestricted funds. Because the last thing anybody wants to see in a couple of years’ time is an unseemly tussle over what happened to today’s Haiti donations, even as other international tragedies receive much less public attention…’ — Felix Salmon (Reuters opinion)

Limbaugh: Don’t give Haitians a penny

“Amid the rash of appeals for Haiti donations has come a call from one of the most prominent voices on the American right for people to hang on to their cash because Barack Obama might steal it.Rush Limbaugh, the most popular radio talkshow host, who is sometimes described as the real leader of the Republican party, says Americans should not give a penny to a population struggling for survival after the earthquake.” (Guardian.UK)