The Tragedy of Nepal

As we saw in the 2006 tsunami in southeast Asia, and as we see in earthquakes, the biggest factor in how many people die is whether or not they had the resources to build infrastructure that could survive the disaster, and to recover afterward. The Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994, while not as large as this one, would have killed many more people if structures hadn’t been built to modern standards.

The biggest casualties were from a single collapsed apartment building. And after the earthquake, the region’s societal wealth allowed rapid rescue and rebuilding. Third-world countries such as Nepal have no such resources. Absent the aid of the C-17s and other aircraft flying in with supplies, from America, Israel and other wealthy nations, the death toll would mount still higher, as victims are dug out too late to rescue them, and the injured die from their injuries and infections absent adequate medical supplies.

Those advocating dramatic reductions in carbon emissions to prevent future natural disasters potentially arising from anthropogenic change to the climate often claim to be advocates for the third-world poor, such as those on low-lying islands, or in flood-prone areas such as Bangladesh. But to the degree that their recommended policy solutions reduce growth in societal wealth, by forcing expensive energy choices over low-cost fossil fuels (and that degree is large), they help ensure not only that the poor stay poor, and more vulnerable to events both natural and human caused, but that the wealthier among us will be less able to afford to help in situations like this.