Monday, March 1, 2010

Christopher Hitchens and Anne Applebaum on Earthquake Response and Preparation

A massive earthquake hit Chile over the weekend; the epicenter was near the city of Concepcion.

As of today the media is reporting about 1,000 people died, and stories are coming out about the enormous disparity between the number of casualties in Haiti (over 200,000) and Chile -- even though Chile's quake was stronger.

Now, Christopher Hitchens thinks ahead (on Slate, here) about the possibility of a major earthquake in Iran, and he predicts that the consequences could be particularly disastrous there:

What would happen to the secret nuclear facilities, both under the ground and above it? ... [The] outcome would be incomparably worse than the consequences of any intervention to arrest the Iranian nuclear program ... While the "negotiations" on Iran's weaponry are being artificially protracted by an irrational and corrupt regime, it should become part of our humanitarianism and our public diplomacy to warn the Iranian people of the man-made reasons that the results of a natural calamity would be hideously multiplied in their case. This, together with the offer of immediate help in earthquake-proofing, enhanced from our experiences in California, is nothing less than a moral responsibility.

It's very interesting that Hitchens frames this as a moral imperative. But I lose him on the sentence "worse than the consequences of any intervention to arrest the Iranian nuclear program" -- what kind of intervention does Hitchens want? Does he argue elsewhere for military action?

On the differences between Haiti and Chile, here's an excerpt from Anne Applebaum's piece (here) in today's Post:

Chile had regulations in place before the quake that required contractors of all new buildings to use earthquake-resistant standards. Not every structure met the standards, but many did. And residents of those that did not will have some recourse: In the city of ConcepciĆ³n, residents of a new building that collapsed are threatening to sue the builders, according to one report. The fact that they are even discussing this option implies that these apartment owners believe they have a court system that works, a legal system that could force builders to pay compensation, and a building regulatory system that is generally respected. Haiti has none of the above.

Applebaum points out that the response to natural disasters is inevitably politicized. This is so very true, as we've witnessed in our own small way in Charlottesville this winter with various criticisms of the way the snowstorms were handled by VDOT, City police (re: citations for sidewalk-shoveling), etc.

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