Project Medishare | Poverty kills during earthquakes, more than the quake itself
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Poverty kills during earthquakes, more than the quake itself

  |   Agriculture Program, Earthquake Response

By Jennifer Browning

Within a two month period two earthquakes struck. On January 12, Haiti’s Port-au-Prince rumbled and roared when a quake the magnitude of 7.0 left the city in ruins and killing over 200,000. Early Saturday morning, a more powerful earthquake, an 8.8, rocked Concepcion, Chile causing widespread damage, destroying buildings, bridges and roads in many areas as far as Chile’s capital in Santiago. Electricity, water and phone lines were cut. So far 214 are reported dead.

Since Saturday morning scientist and journalist have been discussing why a smaller quake killed so many more and left behind more damage in its wake.

Colin Stark from the Doherty Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University shares his opinion with CNN. A geophysicist and geomorphologist, Stark’s research is focused on the effects of typhoons and earthquakes on the triggering of landslides and the erosion of mountain rivers.

In his opinion piece Stark discusses that it was poverty, not necessarily the power of the quake that left Por-au-Prince in a pile of rubble and catastrophic misery.

“Poverty is what ultimately kills most people during an earthquake. Poverty means that little or no evaluation is made of seismic risk in constructing buildings and no zoning takes place. It means that building codes are not written, and even if they do exist they are difficult, or impossible, to enforce. It means the choice between building robustly or building cheaply is not a choice at all.

Haiti is a tragic illustration of this. Weak building materials and poor construction standards share much of the blame for the grotesque numbers of fatalities, injured and internally displaced people.

Of course it’s complicated. Earthquake shaking is a complex process and the chain of causation from earthquake source magnitude through infrastructural damage to human harm involves factors like the type of earthquake fault, its orientation, the hardness of bedrock or presence of wet soil, and so on. A lot also depends on the time of day the earthquake strikes in terms of how many people are inside buildings that could collapse. Population density, distance from the epicenter, and the depth of the rupture are the most important factors of all.

Nevertheless, those countries most at risk of seismic tragedy are not simply those on tectonic plate boundaries, but also those with the least money to spend on protecting themselves.”

Project Medishare has been working in Haiti since 1994 towards achieving quality healthcare for the Haitian people. Poverty has remained a large obstacle in working to achieve this for our organization as well as other NGO’s working in Haiti.

Three years ago, Project Medishare began working towards a plan to obtain funding to operate a Nutrimil (Akamil-AK1000) facility which will produce a fortified meal for those in Haiti’s Central Plateau. Nutrimil is produced from locally-grown products such as cereals (rice, corn, millet, wheat) and vegetables (beans) all blended into powder. It is a product of great nutritious value containing building and energetic nutrients, and is affordable to poor families. With the expert consultation of a nutritionist, the finished product will be fortified with a mix of important vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and Vitamin A.

The Nutrimil facility in conjunction with the adjoining nutrition complex will be a part of working toward combating malnutrition, but also because the ingredients are bought locally, will help boost the local agriculture economy–thus together working toward fighting poverty as well.

Equipment for the facility was installed in November, and Project Medishare planned for the facility to begin operation at the end of February, but the earthquake has postponed the opening.

In the months and years to come, while Project Medishare works towards helping Haiti’s earthquake victims, we will also continue to work towards fighting poverty and malnutrition.

Click here to read more of Stark’s opinion piece on CNN.com which tells the tale of two earthquakes.