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Earthquakes in MEDC’s and LEDC’s

A well-known principle states that the impact of earthquakes in LEDC’s or Less Economically Developed Countries is generally more severe when compared with MEDC’s or More Economically Developed Countries. This shall be illustrated by comparing the Kobe Earthquake in Japan of 1995 with the Kashmir Earthquake of 2005.

The Kobe Earthquake occurred on Tuesday, January 17, 1995, at 05:46 JST in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

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It measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasted for 20 seconds. The duration of the tremors was around 20 seconds long. The focus of the earthquake was located 16km below the epicentre, on the northern edge of the Awaji Island, approximately 20km from Kobe. The proximity to the city was a major factor of its widespread devastation. The ground moved 18cm horizontally and 12 cm vertically.

The Kashmir Earthquake was caused by the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plate boundaries colliding. Its epicentre was located in Azad Kashmir near the city of Muzaffarabad. It occurred at 08:52:37 Pakistan Standard Time (03:52:37 UTC) on 8 October 2005. According to the authorities, 79000 people died. A major factor in the severity of the earthquake was the poor construction – a salient feature of LEDC’s. The Indian Plate which was moving 40 mm a year north collided with the Eurasian plate and was forced beneath it. It measured 7.6 on the Richter Scale.

As is evident, although the magnitude of both earthquakes was extremely similar, the impacts varied greatly. This was due to many factors, which most if not all are related to the economic situation of the countries. We shall begin by discussing the impacts of each of the earthquakes, thereafter we shall discuss why these effects differed.

Kashmir Earthquake

Immediately, 1400 people were killed. Buildings were swaying and many collapsed due to the strength of the earthquake. Electricity supplies were cut off, people were trapped in buildings and roads were blocked due to landslides which hindered initial rescue attempts. Of the 8 million who were affected, 100,000 were injured. Several trains on minor lines were derailed while 3.3 million homes were destroyed. These are the crux of the primary effects.

Many cars were destroyed, trains were suspended, roads were blocked and in many areas the only way to access was through the air. Due to the impact on the buildings, many small businesses were shut down leading to severe job losses. Pakistan lost a total of approximately $500,000,000, which led to the president of the time, Musharraf, to appeal for international aid including money, tents, medical aid and helicopters. This suffices in illustrating the economic devastation brought to the country through the earthquake.

Major hospitals were destroyed, putting the injured in an extremely grave situation, the skyline was practically non-existent and perhaps the worst secondary effect was the phenomena of landslides which destroyed much of the infrastructure and endangered those on the streets.

As mentioned earlier, there were a great number of injured, homeless and jobless people. This caused widespread depression, which is understandable when the extended family set-up of households is examined.

All in all, more than 87,000 people died and 138,000 were injured. The city’s infrastructure was destroyed, clean water was extremely rare, hospitals were destroyed and many were homeless even after a year. This led to major secondary impacts such as outbreaks of diseases due to contaminated water supplies; people were affected with respiratory infections such as pneumonia; and the harsh winter season caused the homeless to suffer. Around 3.3 million people were living in temporary accommodation by the end of the happenings.

When we compare the impacts of the Kashmir earthquake with the Kobe earthquake, we find that the primary effects are similar. These include the fact that buildings collapsed and the fact that many trains derailed. Numerous bridges and expressways collapsed and 120 of the 150 quays in the port of Kobe were destroyed as well as gas and electricity supplies being disrupted.

Fires were set off due to destroyed gas pipes and electricity mains causing a further 7500 houses to burn. The roads were gridlocked causing delays in emergency services. 716 aftershocks were recorded and these lasted for several days. Industries such as Mitsubishi and Panasonic were forced to close.

The death toll, however, was only 5500, injuries were 40,000 and 180,000 houses were destroyed. The newly opened Kansai Airport, due to its brilliant structural foundations, withstood the earthquake, as well as the Akashi Bridge.

However, when we consider the fact that the population density of both areas was similar yet the number of dead, homeless and injured was far more in the Kashmir earthquake than that of the Kobe earthquake.

By July, in about 5 months, most of the infrastructure such as water, electricity, gas and telephone services were up and running. Most buildings in commercial areas were repaired and the places affected by fires had been cleared. Rail services were back in service by August. A year later, 80% of the port was functional i.e. all but the Expressway. There was an increase in the technology used to determine information on earthquakes and movements in the region, and steps were implemented to make sure that devastation to that scale would not occur again.

When the impacts of the 2 earthquakes are compared, it becomes clear that, although the population density of both areas were similar and the magnitude of both were similar, the death, injured and homeless figures are totally out of proportion, with Kashmir suffering a greater loss than Japan. This is also the case when the speed of recovery of the areas is considered, and it can be safely concluded that the infrastructure was more reliable in Kobe than in Kashmir. In addition, Japan’s economy was able to self-fund the aid whereas Musharraf was left begging the international community for aid. We shall examine each of these points in detail in the forthcoming paragraphs.

Firstly, in order to understand where the problem lies, one must examine the details in chronological order. We find that the primary effects were extremely similar with buildings falling, electricity, gas and water supplies being disrupted, roads blocked etc. In some instances, we even find that Japan was hit worse such as the fact that the gas supplies were set alight causing fires.

However, we see that each figure is out of proportion as this table illustrates:

Japan

Kashmir

Dead

5500

87,350

Homeless

230,000

3.3 Million

Injured

40,000

138,000

In my opinion, the vast amount of people who died in the Kashmir earthquake could have boiled down to a number of factors.

Illiteracy and Ignorance of emergency procedure when an earthquake strikes could have posed as a major factor in the amount of people that died. This idea could be further strengthened when you consider that many people in LEDC’s do not possess modern education. This is insofar as a the personal scale goes.

On a governmental scale, due to the other priorities of LEDC’s, little emphasis would be placed on these types of events due to their minute chance of occurring. The government may wish to focus on other matters. This idea could be strengthened when we are to couple this fact with the reality of the Pakistani government which, according to a 2007 report of Transparency International, Pakistan ranks 7th most corrupt country in the world. It is highly likely that money may have been filtered in the wrong places.

When compared with Japan, we see that they immediately increased the number of seismic instruments to record earth movements in the region. This would reduce the likeliness of it occurring again which is possibly the most important thing to do for the government. In addition, the Japanese government decreed that buildings were to be built much more strongly and outlined a new set of guidelines for this to take place. This would place too much of a burden on the Pakistani government.

Although these long-term causes should be rectified, other short-term causes should be identified. These include that, since Saturday was a normal school day, many school children were studying and as a result were buried under collapsed schools. It was also during the month of Ramadan, when people were taking a nap after their pre-dawn meal, hence they may not have had enough time to escape. Entire villages were simply wiped out like this.

In conclusion, although it is expected that LEDC’s like Kashmir would be hit worse than MEDC’s such as Japan due to their economies, it is nevertheless possible to prevent such grave impacts that took place in Kashmir happening again. The people should be educated with emergency procedures, the government should invest in relevant technology which would indicate and warn them ahead of time when seismic activity was occurring. In addition, the government should outline new guidelines for buildings in which they are earthquake resistant just as Japan did. These would strain the economy in the short-term, although in the long term this would relieve the economy should an earthquake such as this one would take place again.