Earthquakes are inevitable, high death tolls are not


Some disasters shock us, we don’t see them coming. The chance of them happening is so small that it is unbelievable when the pieces fall down around us.

Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal was not one of those situations.

Experts, seismologists and disasterologists alike, have predicted this exact situation unfolding. Two years ago to the day, an article was published on IRIN, “Imagining a major quake in Kathmandu” that outlines almost exactly what is playing out right now in Nepal.

As we see heartbreaking images of people being pulled out of rubble, hospitals overrun with injured, children sleeping outside in tents, and international aid groups desperately trying to reach a landlocked country we are left wondering why.

If the experts knew this could happen and if they’ve been publicizing that this could happen, the why? Why did this happen?

Not every earthquake results in disaster. Ultimately it comes down to the prioritization of issues in a region known for instability. When a populated community is built with poor building standards in an area that is seismically active, the events we are now seeing unfold are the only possible outcome. Recently, seismically active areas of Nepal have seen rapid, unplanned, and unstandardized urbanization. There have been earthquake preparedness efforts implemented throughout the region. But ultimately, like much of the rest of the world, quick development has been prioritized over safe development.

The first hurdle after a disaster of this size is finding ways to enter the country to deliver aid. The initial aid has come from the survivors themselves. Survivors are always the first responders to a disaster. They have been the first search and rescuers, the first providers of medical treatment, food, water, and shelter. Now, we are beginning to see aid come in from outside the impacted community.

The majority of disaster aid comes into an impacted community in the weeks immediately following the disaster and then slowly declines as the community enters recovery. A consistent issue for communities that experience disaster is how to maintain outside interest and buy-in throughout a recovery process that takes many years. Unfortunately, right as donations dwindle the community is faced with often the most need for support. Foundation Beyond Belief is dedicated to finding secular organizations that will stay with the impacted community throughout the treacherous recovery process.

As we all process what has happened, and as we send in our donations, we also need to have a conversation about how to implement science and technology to save lives.

We cannot stop the earth from shaking, but we can change how we develop high-risk areas. We can change the way we prepare for earthquakes. And, we can change how we prioritize funding.

 Image credit: Omar Havana, Getty Images.