I was in a 6th floor hotel room on
Grace Bay in
Providenciales, Turks and on Tuesday,
January 12, 2010 when I noticed the floor shaking under my feet. Colleen was napping on the bed and, as I was
watching, it slid on the floor. “What
was that?,” she asked as she roused from her post-sun nap. “Just a little earthquake,” I responded. About 191 miles away from our room, a quarter
of a million people had just lost their lives and over a million lost their
livelihoods. At dinner, oblivious to the
epicenter, we saw the news of the tragedy that had struck Caicos
Island Port-au-Prince. In the five years since the earthquake,
cholera has impacted the lives of at least 100,000 people and has led to nearly
10,000 preventable deaths. And, after 5
years, nearly one third of the cholera treatment centers have been closed due
to lack of funding according to the latest UN statistics. About five years earlier, the Indian Ocean
had heaved off the coast of Sumatra killing another quarter million people in
what was thought to be the 3rd most powerful earthquake in modern
recorded history (trailing the 1960 Valdivia Chile 9.5 and 1964 Prince William
Sound Alaska 9.3).
experienced the latest mass-casualty earthquake with the death toll still
mounting as I write. It’s another
springtime of death 5 years later. It’s
another moment of desperation as families seek to find their loved ones in the
midst of centuries-old rubble and informally constructed brick and stone homes.
And it’s another moment when the instant
response from everyone from Save The Children to the UN is to send money to
jump-start relief efforts less than two months before the arrival of the
monsoons… and cholera.
Two years ago, Santosh Gyawali, Senior Disaster Specialist for USAID Nepal wrote an article for Disaster Risk Reduction entitled “Implementing Building Codes to Save Lives.” In his article he stated that, “a large earthquake would result in at least 100,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries, and 1.6 million displaced in the capital city alone.” According to the study performed by Geohazard International, the majority of risk to humans in the
was not from mudslides and
natural hazards but rather from “poorly constructed buildings not built to
seismic codes.” And while the last big
earthquake to topple much of Kathmandu Valley Kathmandu was in
1934, the population explosion that has happened since then led experts to warn
of the impending loss of life and property.
In a July 28, 2014 article in Cosmos entitled “ Kathmandu’s
earthquake nightmare,” Kate Ravilious carefully laid out the anatomy of what
happened on Saturday – a year before Saturday!
While we marvel at the nighttime lightning images from
Chile’s Calbuco volcano and the emergence of
islands in the Pacific – including one I saw rising from the sea in Tonga after
watching a mini-tsunami in the hotel swimming pool! – we seem to be
collectively missing a number of critical points as humanity despite the earth’s
generous and frequent reminders to PAY ATTENTION! While sociopaths in Washington, Brussels, Jerusalem,
Moscow, Tehran, Kiev, Vienna and, Beijing play out their Freudian dysfunction
jeopardizing the lives of billions, the earth is reminding us that it’s one
active mother (fill in the expletive if you so desire!). And if we’re listening to its rumblings,
crashings, and torrents, we may be ignoring something far more important than
our post-traumatic sympathy for people we’ve cared nothing about before this
Saturday… this time!
And this is not some sort of naïve illusion. My dear friends in
Papua New Guinea live WITH volcanoes
and earthquakes – many of which are more violent and powerful than the ones
grabbing the headlines – and they’ve lived with nature for 40,000 years! Stone walls in Saksaywaman outside of Cusco Peru sit atop
highly seismic convergences and, based on their interlocking engineering, have
stood for an indeterminate period of time.
And my team at M•CAM, working together with our visionary partner
Krishna Gurung, President and Founder of the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco
Foundation, designed buildings using bottles (similar to the work we did in
Mongolia to build greenhouses) in Kathmandu which did not fall when the earth
The earthquake is another wake-up call for us to realize that earthquakes and volcanoes don’t kill anywhere near the number of people that our careless neglect and predilection to violence does. And while putting up emergency shelter, water and sanitation is an immediate need in this moment, it’s past time that we wake up and realize that focusing on economic, social, and trade justice pre-empts our pathetic impulse to act sympathetic after our indifference is evidenced by earth and war. Among the many things that this earthquake did for me was to solidify my deeply held conviction that I’m no longer capable of engaging those who debate the existential merits of the ephemeral “meaning” in life if they don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are actually working to live. And, at the risk of heresy, it’s time for someone to update the New Testament timeless debate about “faith” and “works” which has received more attention than the citizens of
In James 2:14-26, the following is written:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
There’s no question that the wisdom that is captured in the 16th verse above is the only prophetic voice we should listen to at the moment. If we see destitution, we have a DUTY to ACT! And until we see none without, we’ve always got something to DO!