This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Populations at Risk in Nepal

Nepal is a country of 27 million people, the vast majority of whom (83%) live in rural areas, not cities. It is also one of the poorest countries in South/Southeast Asia, being ahead of only Afghanistan in terms of per person income, according to data assembled by the PRB. These characteristics are bound to make it more difficult to bounce back from Saturday's devastating earthquake and the numerous aftershocks that have killed an estimated 2,500 people. The 7.8-magnitude quake struck an area of central Nepal between Katmandu and the city of Pokhara, cities that have many homes made of mud and brick, and where it appears that even new buildings were not always built to earthquake standards, despite the fact that the region is on top of a major earthquake fault. Andy Tatem and the WorldPop group have posted a map of the region to help us put the population at risk into spatial perspective.

The New York Times had an especially illuminating eye-witness account from a westerner who lives in Katmandu--Donatella Lorch:
I first came to Katmandu in 1983 as a backpacker and returned while working on a master’s degree in Indic studies. My husband’s job brought me back once more. A population boom had transformed the Katmandu Valley, its three cities now home to 2.5 million residents. We found a place with horrific air pollution, traffic that never seemed to move and garbage everywhere. Yet my son and I have been happy here. The quirky, cynical, self-deprecating humor of Nepalis charmed me from the first day.
Within 40 seconds on Saturday, everything changed. The Durbar Squares in Katmandu and Patan where tourists thronged — ancient plazas graced with temples and fountains opposite the old royal palaces — had been reduced to rubble, with only a few structures left standing. One of my favorite shrines, famous for its white domes and four giant, fearsome brass dragons with talons raised, is now a pile of cracked red bricks and dust.
Those who survived know they are lucky. Lucky that this did not happen during the frigid winter or monsoon season. Lucky that the quake hit in daylight rather than at night, when more people would have been indoors and casualties would have been worse. Lucky that it was a Saturday, when children were not in schools, most of which were shoddily built.
The urban valley is reliant for gasoline on shipments by truck from India, so things are going to be difficult during the rebuilding process. And, of course, it is anticipated that more deaths will be discovered as villages are visited over the next few days. If you know anything about the region, you are encouraged to share your spatial knowledge at: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/2015_Nepal_earthquake

2 comments:

  1. Prof Weeks - an absolute tragedy there. Casualties are reported at 4,000 today, and I expect the final figure will be somewhere between 5,000-10,000 people. It is possible that some small villages near the epicenter have been buried COMPLETELY.

    The normal survival time for people trapped in wreckage - but still alive - is about 48-hours. This time has now elapsed. FEW survivors in wreckage in Nepal were rescued. The locals did not have the resources, and the international teams (rescue teams from Israel, USA) did not arrive in time. Rain was reported near the epicenter after the quake, and overnight temps were 12 deg C. Hence hypothermia was a great danger. A very sad set of circumstances.

    I expect a growing number of high-casualty disasters during this century. As you probably know, this is driven ENTIRELY by demographics. I wish I had a copy of the chart that shows the predicted casualty rates for the 21'st century. It is eye-opening. The number of deaths climbs exponentially - for causes related to natural disasters. The math that "causes this" is entirely due to the rapidly growing human populations living near fault lines, flood zones, coastlines, tornado zones, and volcano zones.

    cheers,
    Pete, Redondo Beach

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    1. Without question the high number of deaths is attributable to rapid population growth over the past few decades. However, the fact that temples and other old structures that had been standing for hundreds of years were brought down by the quake is a sign of its unusual strength.

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