Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

October 9, 2005

This Should Put Hurricane Katrina in Perspective

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:33 pm

AP reports:

Oct 9, 10:43 AM (ET)


BALAKOT, Pakistan (AP) – Villagers desperate to find survivors dug with bare hands Sunday through the debris of a collapsed school where children had been heard crying beneath the rubble after a massive earthquake. Pakistani officials said the death toll ranged between nearly 20,000 and 30,000.

Pakistan’s president called Saturday’s magnitude-7.7 earthquake the country’s worst on record and appealed for urgent help, particularly cargo helicopters to reach remote areas. Rival India, which reported more than 465 dead, offered assistance.

“I have been informed by my department that more than 30,000 people have died in Kashmir,” Tariq Mahmmod, communications minister for the Himalayan region, told The Associated Press.

Now, these are only estimates, and the initial estimates of the Katrina death toll (e.g., 10,000) turned out to be wildly exaggerated, perhaps for political purposes. But these estimates area probably closer, since (1) there’s no opportunity to evacuate from an earthquake, (2) buildings in that part of the world are not generally capable of withstanding strong earthquakes, and (3) the capacity to rescue trapped-but-alive or injured-but-alive victims in time to save them is much smaller there than in New Orleans and the surrounding region, both in absolute terms, and relative to the number of people likely to need rescue.

If there were any fairness in the world, we would now see huge calls for donations, and a spirited debate over whether to rebuilt the affected towns and villages, and if so, how and who should pay. But we will see none of those things, except probably a moderate call for donations.

I understand why people want to help their friends and relatives in distress more than they want to help complete strangers. But I do not understand why people feel a stronger urge to help complete strangers in their own country than to help complete strangers in other countries.

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