Free «Why 2008 the Wenchuan Earthquake in China Was So Devastating» Essay Paper

Why 2008 the Wenchuan Earthquake in China Was So Devastating

The occurrence of catastrophes in the recent times has been on the rise in various parts of the world. Governments and states in different corners of the globe have been caught off-guard by these disasters, which brought disastrous results. A set of effective measures need to be put in place in order to foresee the occurrence of any catastrophes, how to manage them, and eventually how the affected countries need to act to minimize the consequences. This paper looks at the Wenchuan earthquake that took place in China; the case study shows how such risks are managed, as well as demonstrated points where institutions went wrong in managing the disaster.

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake occurred in the Sichuan Province of China killing 69,197 people and leaving 18,222 missing. It had a magnitude of 7.9 (a magnitude of 8.0 was measured by the Chinese). Since the epicenter was in the Wenchuan County, it was named the Wenchuan earthquake. Its focal depth was 19km. The destruction power caused landslides (Honjo et. al. 227). The overall impact of the earthquake was catastrophic and resulted in significant economic losses and a high number of affected people.

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The earthquake occurred along the Longmenshan fault, which is a thrust structure situated at the junction of the Eurasian Plate and Indo-Australian Plate. The fault is a region of tectonic tension between the Sichuan Basin and the Plateau of Tibet (Kafle, Wibowo, and Mohyeddin-Kermani 2). During the earthquake, the seismic stress concentrated on the Yingxiu-Beichuan fracture, which is situated in the middle of the fault, and controlled the aftershocks (Xing and Xu 17). The tear had lasted for about 120 seconds; most of the energy was released in the first 80 seconds. From its epicenter in Wenchuan, the rupture traveled at an angle of 490 towards the northeast for 300 kilometers at a speed of 3.1 kilometers per second. The study also shows that the maximum displacement of the earthquake was nine meters. Some aftershocks occurred in consecutive days; in Chengdu, a 5.0 magnitude event occurred in May 2010.

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According to the reports, the energy released by the earthquake was not a record setter. However, the destruction caused by it made this particular disaster stand out. According to Kusky and Cullen (227), the death toll was about 90,000 people while 18,222 others went missing. In addition, 4.8 million citizens were left homeless. The magnitude of the earthquake was the greatest one ever recorded in China since 1950; some tremors were felt even in Shanghai, which is 1700 km away from the epicenter (Dillon 116).

According to official data, the earthquake brought very high fatalities. One of the reasons for such rates was the shallowness of the epicenter, which was only19 km deep (Sneeuw 356). A shallow epicenter means that the effect of the earthquake is felt either on or close to the surface of the earth. Therefore, in the case of an earthquake of such a magnitude and with shallow epicenter, much energy was released close to the surface of the earth and caused great damage to property and loss of numerous lives. Apart from having a shallow epicenter, firm terrain of Central China also contributed to the high fatalities of the quake. Due to this fact, seismic waves traveled long distances without losing any energy.

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Another reason for high fatalities was the high population density of the region where the earthquake occurred. According to Prince, changes that increased the risks were caused by an intensive population growth (289). Today, China has the highest population in the whole world. It means that the population density in various provinces of China is rather high. Accordingly, Sichuan has a high occupancy density; consequently, effects of the earthquake affected many citizens either directly or indirectly. Many people lost their lives or those of their relatives due to the disaster.

According to Shaw, Srinivas, and Sharma, most cities in Asia have an infrastructure of poor quality (83). The prevalence of buildings made of mud-brick and other low-quality materials in most parts of the rural areas of the Sichuan Province increased the fatality rate during the earthquake. In such a manner, the houses were unable to withstand the shock caused by the quake; eventually, they collapsed and killed anyone inside and those close to them during the collapse. Even the buildings reinforced with concrete could not handle the tremor, and they also gave in and collapsed. In the urban areas, survivors camped outside the buildings due to the fear of another earthquake at the night after the earthquake.

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The quake occurred in the afternoon when children were in their schools. The local administration was in charge of building educational facilities in the region. A corrupt agreement of the local government officials and building companies responsible for building schools in the region led to the use of poor quality materials and a shoddy construction plan, management, and the construction itself. As a result, school buildings had minimal resistance to the earthquake; hence, they collapsed quickly. Many school children died in the earthquake while staying at class. An official report from the government estimated that about 7,000 classrooms and dormitories were ruined by the earthquake. According to Bergsten et al., after the disaster, there was a public outcry over the collapse of classrooms caused by the poor construction (96).

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Only the Chinese government and very few humanitarian organizations engaged directly in managing the results of the earthquake. Such a behavior of other international non-governmental organizations in response to the disaster can be explained by the occurrence of a range of other events, including the Cyclone Nargis that had hit Myanmar 10 days before the Wenchuan earthquake. Secondly, many NGOs did not know how to launch operations in the region due to the lack of access and local experience. The last reason NGOs did not respond was because they thought that the Chinese government had the required capacity and resources to respond to the calamity because of its stable economic growth.

A variety of lessons has been learned from the Wenchuan earthquake. The poor building materials used in the construction of schools that collapsed, and the companies involved in the building were harbored by corrupt government officials. In the future, the government should conduct necessary inspections during the construction of the public property in order to ensure that the set regulations are followed to the letter. According to Chen and Booth, new schools will be build one degree better than the national standard asks in order to avoid such a tragedy again (36). The government should also take care of the public education and awareness in the areas that are considered earthquake-prone. This move is aimed to sensitize local citizens to make buildings that are resistant to any quacks or other natural disasters. The public awareness presupposes educating citizens on to do or how to respond in the case such a disaster occurs.

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A few international humanitarian agencies came after the Wenchuan Earthquake with offering various services. The governmental approach to the emergency response in this period was effective and crucial in saving human lives. However, a greater effort would have been made for preparing a list of various humanitarian agencies in specific areas, for example, health, emergency shelter, and livelihoods. In the future, this move would minimize the number of fatalities since those rescued from the ruins would be properly treated and some lives would be saved.

In conclusion, catastrophes are unavoidable. According to the case of the Wenchuan earthquake, various reasons can increase the fatalities and destruction. The government of China should use the existing data and report to improve the areas, which caused an increase in fatalities. These areas include public awareness, better involvement of international humanitarian agencies, and curbing the levels of corruption in the government offices. This strategy will allow reducing the number of fatalities and also improving the management in such disasters.

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