Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Can you compare disasters? Should you compare disasters? Well, one (me) has trouble not comparing, given how many natural disasters have been in the news in the past month or two. And comparing the recent earthquake in Asia to Katrina/Rita helps me understand the magnitude of the two events.

While initial reports suggested that we'd lost 10,000 Americans in the muck and floods of Katrina, the losses now are estimated at what, 1000? (Wiki says 1242, whatever that's worth.) The quake confirmed numbers continue to rise. Pakistan alone confirms 23,000 people dead as of today.
23,000. The numbers are unfathomable, though try we will to take them in.

The earthquake reports sound hauntingly familiar: "Most of the city's 600,000 residents have spent three cold nights with no shelter. Hundreds of casualties have been waiting in the open at a sports stadium which is being used to house the homeless and care for survivors. Food supplies have been running short and there are reports of looting in the city. Medecins Sans Frontiers are warning of a potential water-borne disease epidemic."

And the anger. Remember the anger of the evacuees in NOLA and environs? Well, they are also angry in Pakistan. I don't remember hearing of anger before during responses to natural disasters. I'm very curious, in a dispassionate, detached way, about the anger. Here in the US, the source of anger was pretty obvious: the Powers That Be sucked at caring for those that had already suffered great indignities, both physical and emotional.

That appears, at this point, to be the source of anger in Asia, as well. Slowness of response. Is this new? Or are we less tolerant of slow responses? Do the people in various parts of Asia believe that the slowness of response is due to their respective ethnicities or races? I get that impression, from this article. Clearly, I don't know enough about the area yet. BTW, I'm not asking in a pointed way, comparing to Katrina. I'm truly wondering.

Each new event that I truly immerse myself in, I am disappointed at how little I know of the world. Why is Kashmir cut in two pieces, one side governed by Pakistan, the other by India? I will find out.

The earthquake has affected an area 186 miles in radius. Katrina damaged an area measuring 90,000 square miles. Clearly, Katrina has affected more land. Is that more homes? It must be. It's not more people, though. Muzaffarabad, Kashmir is a more densely populated city than NOLA. The earthquake has killed 23,000 of its citizens, so far, compared to about 1000 in New Orleans. We were gripped by the potential lives lost in America. Yet the devastation to property has, coldly put, a more lasting effect. Doesn't it?

Too, with Katrina, the press coverage has been overwhelmingly focused on NOLA. Yet there has been devastation in an area 90,000 square miles. Way bigger than NOLA. The updates we receive now still haven't told me much about Biloxi, for example. Sitting in the 3rd poorest state in the nation. How do poor people recover from having their homes leveled? In East Biloxi, 70%+ homes were destroyed.

Coverage focuses on Muzaffarabad, largest city affected by the quake. But there are compelling BBC stories about smaller towns, too. Towns flattened, just as surely as Biloxi was, by different natural forces.

The earthquake appears to have killed far more children, in the first accounting, than Katrina. Apparently children were all in schools during the earthquake. Many of them were crushed in their school buildings. "The one thing that strikes you immediately - 80% of this village has been destroyed - is that there are no children. We've just been talking to some of the locals here and they've said most of them have died; they died in schools, and again, the bodies remain there."

Now I must go to bed to dream of children under school tin roofs. You can compare hells. But the comparison doesn't lessen or negate the pain and suffering involved in each. They are just different hells.

Until tomorrow,


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