January 17, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Earthquakes Don’t Kill: Corrupt Leaders Do

“A new assessment of global earthquake fatalities over the past three decades indicates that 83 percent of all deaths caused by the collapse of buildings during earthquakes occurred in countries considered to be unusually corrupt.”  That’s the opening statement of an entry in Science Daily.
    Of course, no one can predict where a stone will fall when an earthquake hits, but the casualty numbers could be drastically reduced if it were not for corruption, a study published in Nature found.1  “The six-digit death toll from last year’s Haiti earthquake compared with the absence of any fatalities in New Zealand’s identical magnitude (7) earthquake was a stark reminder that poor building practices are largely to blame for turning moderate earthquakes into major disasters,” Ambraseys and Bilham said.
    “Earthquake-resistant construction depends on responsible governance, but its implementation can be undermined by corruption,” or by poverty, use of substandard materials or poor siting – often consequences of bad government.  The researchers knew that poverty often tracks with corruption, but they teased apart the major factors and called corrupt leaders “geology’s accomplices” in mass death from natural disasters.  “Of all earthquake fatalities attributable to building collapse in the past three decades, 82.6% occur in societies that are anomalously corrupt,” their graph showed.  Chile and New Zealand, for example, are “less corrupt than might be expected from their per capita income, and have low earthquake fatalities.”  Japan was an outlier; its devastating Kobe earthquake could be attributed to “collapse of older structures in Kobe that predate the adoption of a code of earthquake-resistant building.”  Their ending paragraph was depressing:

But our analyses suggest that international and national funds set aside for earthquake resistance in countries where corruption is endemic are especially prone to being siphoned off.  The structural integrity of a building is no stronger than the social integrity of the builder, and each nation has a responsibility to its citizens to ensure adequate inspection.  In particular, nations with a history of significant earthquakes and known corruption issues should stand reminded that an unregulated construction industry is a potential killer.

On a related political note, New Scientist reported that independence for South Sudan could have a healthy spin-off: the eradication of the guinea worm parasite.  Decades of civil war inhibited opportunities to clean up water supplies where the worm eggs infest humans.  Though in ruins, the cessation of conflict might allow the new independent country a chance to bring the world a “peace dividend” – “the second human disease – after smallpox – to be eradicated.”


1.  Ambraseys and Bilham, “Corruption kills,” Nature 469, pp 153�155, 13 January 2011, doi:10.1038/469153a.

It would be an interesting study to examine how many deaths due to “natural disasters” are severely aggravated by human sin.  Imagine yourself outside in nature in a severe earthquake.  Sure, you might get hit by a tsunami or landslide, but chances are, you would be fine after the shaking stops – even in Haiti outside the city.  But experience the same quake in a shanty town of low-quality buildings thrown up by poverty-stricken people who cannot rise out of their poverty due to corrupt leaders, and the results can be, and were (a year ago), appallingly tragic.  Los Angeles is due for a big one.  The last two major quakes killed 57 in 1994 and 65 in 1971.  Compare that with 230,000 deaths in Haiti for a similar magnitude.
    If Haiti had liberty and justice for all, and a Protestant work ethic that encouraged entrepreneurship regulated by righteous leaders and judges, the cities would have been built on the proper sites, with safe materials and reinforcements.  The citizens would be trained in disaster preparation and response.  Undoubtedly many would still have died in last year’s quake: perhaps a few hundred, but not 230,000.  To add major insult to major injury, the cholera epidemic that broke out and killed thousands more in Haiti was likely also caused by corruption and carelessness of the UN aid workers who came to “help” the victims.  When the people protested, the UN workers fired on them!  Read the JSF-Post blog about this and weep.  A reader submitted the following anecdote:

Regarding your entry “Earthquakes Don�t Kill: Corrupt Leaders Do”, I thought you might like another comparison for the Haiti earthquake: the 2010 Christchurch earthquake.  It measured 7.1 on the Richter scale (as big as the Haiti quake), but there were zero fatalities directly linked to the earthquake.  There were two serious injuries, and one person died of a heart attack during the quake, but nobody was directly killed by the quake or debris.  The quake�s epicentre was on 40km (24mi) west of Christchurch, and Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest city, with about 375,000 people, so the potential for a catastrophe was huge.  But mainly due to New Zealand’s strict building codes, and that people evidently adhered to them, Christchurch escaped with was it in comparison to Haiti a few minor grazes.

    Solomon said, “An unplowed field produces food for the poor, but injustice sweeps it away” (Proverbs 13:23).  A prosperous society built on liberty and justice for all generates prosperity, funds science, punishes evil, produces civic stability that promotes commerce, and many other social benefits.  Constitutionally-protected liberty, as America’s founders established, is built on the Biblical values they espoused.  Knowing man’s tendency to evil, they constructed branches of government that provided checks and balances on power, to forestall corruption and to allow free people to pursue prosperity with their Creator-endowed rights of life and liberty.  That freedom had an unprecedented peace dividend for the world.
    How scientific institutions can continue to support leftist policies (12/05/2010, 10/14/2010) that have produced the worst corrupt dictatorships of the 20th century is senseless.  Big government breeds ambition and corruption.  Don’t they realize that the leftist trend in America has led to financial ruin that threatens their own funding?  If they understood fallen human nature as taught by the Bible, they would realize that the founding American system is the best one to promote scientific research and education, because it works human nature against its evil tendencies: ambition is turned toward service, greed toward healthy competition, and selfishness toward excellence.  The Bible promotes hard work to serve others; it rewards responsibility and charity.  It doesn’t work for a society that has no regard for these values, because bribery that is unpunished undermines the safety inspections instituted to protect the poor.
    The study authors said, “The structural integrity of a building is no stronger than the social integrity of the builder.”  Where does social integrity come from?  Evolution?  Ha!  Get real.  Integrity is a Biblical value right out of the Ten Commandments.  Corrupt governments, that violate the Biblical commands against stealing and bearing false witness, that do not love God with all their hearts and minds nor their neighbors as themselves, where power gets concentrated in a few individuals, have the worst track records on human rights and scientific achievement.  Nature News recently had to admit that Venezuela’s dictator, Hugo Chavez, a liberal darling and bosom buddy of fellow despots Ahmadinejad and Castro, is putting the squeeze on the country’s scientists.  Surprised?
    Let these articles be a lesson to scientific institutions.  Supporting a return to America’s founding ideals and values would be the best investment they could ever make.  For the poor, it’s a matter of life and death.

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