The Humanitarian Times
February 2, 2001

- DEATH-TOLL FROM INDIA/PAKISTAN EARTHQUAKE MAY TOP 50,000; although knowledge about its impact changes daily, almost all the deaths occurred on the morning of Jan. 26, after 8:45 a.m. when a 7.7-magnitude (previously believed to be 7.9) quake hit along a fault running north of the city of Bhuj (population 150,000) toward Ahmedabad, collapsing homes across Gujarat state & was felt in all 4 major cities of Pakistan. The quake injured more than it killed & left over 600,000 homeless & damaged 110,000 homes in Pakistan. Five aftershocks this week also occurred around this confluence of the Eurasian, Arabian & Indian tectonic plates. While confirmed deaths number some 20,000, speculation by the Indian Govt suggests a total impact of between 50 & 100,000 deaths. The Gujurat area has seen high growth rates, attracting investments & new construction; but no technological disasters reported (the petrochemical plant shut safely). The same area also suffered severe drought during the past year.

No epidemics are reported; statements about 'fear of epidemics' mislead the public & distracts families from proper burial of the dead.
The World Health Org's assessment states that "the presence of dead bodies per se, does not represent a serious threat of epidemics.
There is no need for disinfecting the bodies; Lime bleach can be used to diminish the smell. There is no lack of drugs." See: Blankets, shelter & food supplies were forthcoming from many intl. NGOs who, like the Red Cross, CARE & Catholic Relief Services, have worked extensively in India for decades. Since the quake, the govt has been criticized for having not prevented its effects by more strictly enforcing housing standards. In the past, most of India's disaster preparedness has been oriented toward floods, drought & famine.
The Asian Devpt Bank pledged $350M, W Bank pledged $300M, the EC $13M.

- EVERY LOCAL COMMUNITY SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR SEARCH & RESCUE argued Debby Sapir, disaster expert in Jan 19 Int. Herald Tribune, observing that intl. disaster relief (which takes a day or more to mobilize) dissuades training of local & regional communities in "techniques of extrication, reinforcing housing, response in schools, hospitalss Locals are the ones who can bring any effective help in the first few hours." 95% of earthquake deaths occur in the first minutes & hours. Sapir writes that lessons from some past earthquakes suggests that "the cutoff for finding...survivors was about 6 hours."

- GOVT OF SOUTH AFRICA COMMITS TO GIVE ANTI-HIV DRUG TO PREGNANT WOMEN starting in March, providing Nevirapine in an effort to reduce transmission of AIDS infection to newborns.

- HIV/AIDS VACCINE RESEARCH RECEIVES MORE FUNDING THIS WEEK from the Gates Foundation which pledged $100M; no immunization against AIDS in humans has yet been discovered.


- REPATRIATION OF LAST (OF 14,000) REFUGEES HOME TO CHAD COMPLETED last month, by UNHCR, from the Central African Republic.


- US PRES BUSH PROHIBITS AID AGENCIES FROM HAVING ANY LINKS TO ABORTION services (including general counseling, education or training), by conditioning all US Aid on this linkage that tells private charities what they must do, even with monies privately raised from the public.
Large, multi-sector NGOs thus must choose whether or not to close down aid programs in other, unrelated sectors, in order to comply with Bush's edict. "The best way for Pres Bush to reduce abortions," writes the Pres. of Pathfinder Intl. (an NGO) in the NY Times, "is to allow clinics abroad to expand family planning services" & cites recent trends in Azerbaijan where abortion, once the dominant means of birth control, has now declined since NGOs have worked with the population & exposed them to education, training, and other modern contraceptive options.

- LEONARD PELTIER, NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITY WORKER, REMAINS IN JAIL after Pres. Clinton decided not to grant clemency. Clinton was lobbied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep Pelletier in prison for his participation in a June 1975 shoot-out initiated by FBI agents Jack Kowler & Ronald Williams (both were killed) on the native American Pine Ridge reservation. The UN Human Rights Commissioner, several Nobel Peace Prize winners, the European Union, Senator Daniel Inouye, & American Indian groups have argued for Peltier's release because current evidence suggests that he is being punished for crime he could not have committed.


- EU DELEGATION TO BURMA ENCOURAGES MILITARY REGIME IN ITS OPENING of dialogue to the National League for Democracy, represented by Aung San Suu Kyi.


- POSITION AVAILABLE: FORCED MIGRATION ASSISTANT PROFESSORSHIP at Columbia Univ (NY), on clinical public health in complex emergencies with a doctoral degree required. Contact:



- "NATURAL DISASTER MANAGEMENT," AN ANTHOLOGY WITH 120 CONTRIBUTIONS, edited by J Ingleton (1999, published in Leicester, UK by Tudor Rose Holdings), collates essays & case studies by disaster experts & diplomats, in commemoration of the Intl. Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). Most chapters emphasize risk reduction through prevention, including vulnerability mapping & education. The chapter by Terry Jeggle describes the IDNDR which promoted systematic attention to disaster reduction in govt & multilateral development planning. Jeggle says that the IDNDR process showed the relationships between natural disasters, environmental change, technological crises & human behavior. Jeggle emphasizes the value of partnerships, between scientists, implementers, intl. specialists & local planners, & comments that disaster reduction ultimately depends on public education & community preparedness.

The chapter on earthquakes notes their occurrences where several tectonic plate boundaries collide near the outer layers of the earth's surface. Poorer countries suffer more because houses often are constructed from heavy materials - masonry or stone - which afford little earthquake protection. "The most lethal earthquake this century was in 1976 - the mining city of Tangshan, China, where the buildings were mainly of brick masonry, killing at least 250,000 people." Another chapter describes the 1995, 7.4-scale quake which killed several thousand people - two-thirds the population in Russia's Neftegorsk area of Sakhalin Island, & argues for better training of emergency coordinators. A case study of housing in Peru points out that 35M people in S America live in quake-vulnerable adobe houses which "are apt to collapse in a few seconds when severely shaken," & promotes an inexpensive system of wire mesh on the inside & outside of adobe walls that can prevent the loss of lateral rigidity in non-reinforced walls. A chapter by Geohazards describes the Earthquake Disaster Risk Index (EDRI) that allows comparison of net risks in metropolitan areas across countries & continents.

The chapter by John Owen-Davies warns against inflated expectations about the benefits of complicated information technology (GIS, websites, for coordinating disaster response, writing "Many NGOs believe use of the internet in disaster zones is of little value; they see e-mail as more effective." The chapter by S Bender of the Org. of American States points out the continued high vulnerability of Latin Americans to natural disasters. Bender explains that disaster forecasts (an improving science) ought not be the key to action. Instead, "preparedness, relief & rehabilitation must first & foremost be recast as a complement to focusing on vulnerability assessment."

Disaster reduction efforts neglect Africa, argues Ailsa Holloway in another chapter, because Africa's slow-onset crises are different from the short-onset disasters which wealthier countries define as priority. Holloway mentions "agriculture extension services, revolving credit schemes for women & alien vegetation eradication...examples of activities which provide socioeconomic benefits as well as resilience to natural & other threats." Tom Downing presents a typology of drought, which associates phases (e.g. depleting assets) with relevant intervention (food for work income support), commenting that "managed drought, in Africa, has replaced the drought-equals-food-crisis sequence prevalent until the 1970s." Downing says that monitoring meteorological or land conditions can not, by themselves, predict drought impact, which must also take in to account population patterns, assets, incomes & social systems.

- THE EVOLVING SCIENCE OF EARTHQUAKES is reviewed in R Yeats' "The Geology of Earthquakes" (1997, Oxford Univ Press, 550p), a textbook thoroughly covering geologic history, reverse faults, strike-slip faults, the flow of seismic waves, & statistical approaches to hazard assessment; & Nicholas Wade's "The Science Times Book of Natural Disasters" (2000 NY Times), a compilation of short explanations about natural disasters that have appeared in the science weekly section of the NY Times.

Feb 2, 2001 The Humanitarian Times
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