An article in The Lancet argues that earthquakes are particularly devastating when compared with other natural disasters. Earthquakes “frequently affect populous urban areas with poor structural standards” and they impair emergency responders. Shifting tectonic plates killed more than 780,000 people in the last decade.

According to a BBC report on the findings, “Children are often at higher risk of injury and death during earthquakes than adults. In Haiti in 2010, 53 percent of patients were younger than 20 years old and 25 percent were under 5.”

Not all injuries are physical — the same Beeb report says post-quake depression is common — affecting up to 72 percent of survivors — and some people fall prey to suicidal thoughts.

The other thing about earthquakes is that you have no idea when they are coming. Here in Los Angeles we’ve been hearing about “the big one” for decades. Ask a geologist and he or she will tell you that the San Andreas fault is long overdue for a major event — something at or above magnitude 8.1. An earthquake that size would release twice the energy, reports the L.A. Times, of the last “big one” in California, a 7.9 quake that struck in 1857.

Such an earthquake could strike at any moment. Ask the people who live here if they’re ready for it.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, months of flooding have killed more than 500 people, and the economic devastation as factories drown and ordinary Thais lose everything could last long after the floodwaters recede.

It’s worth noting that scientists have been saying for years that climate change will intensify natural disasters, causing storms to be more frequent and intense, floods to deepen and drought to spread. Perhaps one day soon these catastrophes will catch up to earthquakes in their destruction. What a great time for Congress to defund FEMA.

With so many disasters we can’t control, we should redouble our efforts to do something about those we can — poverty, hunger, health crises, war, homelessness and on and on.

— Peter Z. Scheer

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