Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Scale of the Nepal Earthquake

With the story slipping from the front pages, I worry that the scale of the Nepal earthquake is lost on many people. The global news media puts the greatest emphasis on a story like this when it is new, but the extent of the disaster still can’t be measured with confidence days later. The most careful initial reports put the death toll around 400. This number has since risen to about 5,000, making it the worst thing ever to happen in Nepal. Nepal, meanwhile, is not so small. It can look small outlined on a map between China and India, the two most populated countries in the world, but only 40 countries in the world have a larger population than Nepal. The earthquake shook the whole country and caused severe damage in the heart of the country. TV cameras, when they arrive, can show rubble but can’t show the one to two million people who lack shelter. The sense of scale can’t come from any single place. Fatalities occurred as far away as Bangladesh and the world’s biggest mountain was badly damaged. These are perhaps not the most meaningful measures of the damage in Nepal but they help to provide a sense of scale.