Earthquakes Don't Kill People, Bad Governments Kill People

| Mon Jan. 24, 2011 7:37 AM EST

A recent report in the journal Nature has bad (if somewhat obvious) disaster news for citizens of bad governments: Corrupt countries have been responsible for 83 percent of all deaths caused by building collapse during earthquakes over the last 30 years. Haiti, of course, being responsible for 300,000 of those deaths in the January 2010 quake. Number of people killed during an earthquake of the same magnitude during the same year in New Zealand: 0. 

"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," the Nature article says. "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."

As I reported during the past two weeks in Haiti, here is a (just very partial) list of other things a corrupt government fails to do for its people: protect them from horrendous violent crimes, provide them with basic welfare services, get their orphans out of the country and into new families. Add to the list "not making the same massive fatal mistake twice": A year after Haiti's quake, there is some rebuilding going on, a lot of it in the private sector. But if you'd like a Haitian to look at you like you are very stupid, ask them, "What kind of permits and code requirements do you need to do that?"

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