Putting the Sichuan Quake into Perspective (Re-Post)
( Note : This is a re-post of the same article taken from the blogsite : chinablogs.wordpress.com dated May 10, 2009. You are most welcomed to give your feedback using the Comments section here or on my above blogsite. You may also find the comments and my feedback on the above blogsite interesting. It includes an interesting comment from an American with first hand experience of the quake. )
Recently a prominent Chinese activist has demanded a name list from the Chinese government of the children killed in the Sichuan earthquake. This demand will presumably be increased to include the names of all 90,000 victims in order to work out exactly how many of the dead were children.
Personally, I don’t think he would be successful. I have never known of any governments in the world that have released name lists of catastrophies that have resulted in deaths of that magnitude. I don’t think China would be any different.
Most likely, this effort, no matter how well the original intention is, would just turn out to be yet another prolonged confrontation destined to stir up further unrests and even more hardship for the parents in the future. Given that is the case, I believe it is worthwhile trying to assess objectively whether this is the best way forward for the victims, their family and everyone else.
To do that, we need to understand the motivation behind the demand, and the facts surrounding the events, in order to correctly assess the situation and address the underlying issues.
The first question we need to ask is why the need to know exactly how many children died from the quake. Why the need to single out one particular attribute of the dead? In other words, why is no-one just as desperate to find out the sex or ethnicity, or any other attribute of the dead. There has to be a reason for such firm determination to know the age.
If you have been following the news, then the answer should be quite obvious. There is this wide spread belief that the school collapses were a result of shoddy workmanship caused by corrupt government officials. Therefore an exact count of the number of children killed is believed by many to provide incriminating “evidence” against the authorities.
The root of the suspicion is the fact that while some buildings did not collapse, most of the schools in the area did. But is that evidence of shoddy workmanship, let alone “evidence” of corruption? In order to find out, we need to explore some facts.
So let’s consider some facts.
1) The power of the Sichuan quake was aprox. 251 times that of the recent Italian L’Aquila earthquake.
2) It rocked for 3 minutes instead of seconds as was in the Italian quake.
3) The energy released was equivalent to almost 560 atom bombs of the grade used in the WW2
4) It is the world’s 19th deadliest earthquake of all time.
The recent L’Aquila quake in Italy flattened or severely damaged most of the buildings in the area. Imagine what would happen if you increase that 251 times while also increasing the duration to 3 minutes. It is hard to imagine any buildings left standing. Perhaps a better question is NOT why so many schools collapsed, but why some schools did not collapse.
Despite the fact that Italy is a wealthy first world European country, there are those who seem to think that it is somehow not good enough to be used as a comparison to tiny remote villages in China. To satisfy those people, let’s have a look at another even more wealthy and powerful country. The economic superpower of the 1980s, Japan.
The 1995 Kobe earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale completely devastated the city of Kobe. Within 20 seconds, the massive quake collapsed 200,000 buildings, 1 km of the Hanshin Expressway, and 120 of the 150 quays in the port of Kobe.
Yet, the Sichuan quake is almost 45 times the strength of the Kobe quake, and lasted for approximately 9 times the duration. Imagine what would happen to the city of Kobe if you increase the quake 45 times and the duration 9 times.
Wealthy Japan is no stranger to earthquakes. Indeed, it is well known for having plenty of earthquakes on a regular basis. Buildings are built to a very high standard. There is no reason why it cannot be used as a comparison to a remote village in a developing country such as China.
It is clear from the comparisons above that the collapse of the scools in remote villages should not be a surprise to anyone. They do not in any way prove poor quality construction. The question instead should be how did some Chinese schools survive the world’s 19th deadliest earthquake of all time.
While I of course don’t object to the idea of finding out if your child survived the quake, I do think it is quite pointless confronting the authorities simply to find out if they know the name of your deceased child. After all, it isn’t like the parents do not know the names of their dead children. And there is no reason why they so desparately need to know the names of someone else’s dead children.
Perhaps there is a need for everyone to calm down. Perhaps there is a need for everyone to reflect on whether this is the best way forward for the victims and their family, and indeed for the nation.
Imagine for a moment that, if the people involved were less ready to blame the government ; that if the internet was not filled with nasty allegations all pointing the same direction ; that if the different interest groups (both within and outside China) did not stir the emotions of the people to fuel this allegation. The situation would surely be much less potentially explosive.
The numbers would then not serve any purpose other than as statistics. In that case, it would be hard to imagine why the authorities would not be willing to share the statistics with you. And everyone can then concentrate their efforts on rehabilitation and improving their livelihoods. There is no reason why this is not achievable. In my opinion, this is the correct way forward.
Sources for the calculations used above are based on information extracted from the following websites:
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