Earthquakes Don’t Kill People, Bad Governments Kill People

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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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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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