The Pirate says that he'd rather live in a place that's prepared for natural disasters than in a place unlikely to bear the brunt of them, but I think that's pretty silly.

Dispite what Mike Williams suggests, I'll live in a area that is prepared for a natural disaster, rather than one that would be decimated by one if it happens to occur. We have a good building code in this country, better materials, better construction quality management, better laws regulating construction and better enforcement. In the third world its a disaster, even if there is a building code its not well enfoced. Just look at the quakes in places like Bam and turkey, a shaker that may break your wine glasses in LA, kills 10's of thousands. This is where Attila is exactly right when she says that even developing countries need a minimal building code and importantly they need to get people to follow it and they need someone to enforce it. I would say adopt either the California UBC for siesmic design (where many California regulations are overbearing and pointless, I like the siesmic code being strict because I have this thing against dying) or the specs the Japanese use.

The problem with this proposal is that residents of third-world countries simply can't afford to build structures to the same standards we can in America. It's not that the beach-dwelling fishermen of Sri Lanka don't want to live in steel-reinforced high rises, it's that they aren't productive enough to support a society can can afford such safety. The choice they face is often either living under a tree or building a box house out of cinder blocks that'll come tumbling down in a tremor, crushing everyone inside.

What their governments can afford are mitigation technologies with concentrated costs and distributed benefits, such as tsunami detection and alarm systems. A few buoys and warning sirens could have saved thousands of lives around the Bay of Bengal a couple of days ago. Earthquakes are a bit trickier, of course.

Third-world countries don't have the resources to build hardened lines of defense against natural disasters -- just as America doesn't have the resources to put a parachute on the back of every airplane passenger. Money is scarce, and it has to be spent in ways that save lives as efficiently as possible. For instance, it would be foolish to spend money building earthquake-proof buildings if you couldn't first afford to provide clean drinking water. I'm not suggesting that every decision made by these governments was wise or correct, but saying that they simply need safer building codes is essentially "let them eat cake!"

The ultimate solution is liberty, which leads to prosperity, which leads to safety.

OpinionJournal agrees: "Prosperity is the best defense against a tsunami".



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