Editorial: Natural disasters deserve more complete coverage

As of Oct. 30, Italy has experienced three earthquakes that have each taken a significant toll on the country’s infrastructure and citizens. On Oct. 26, two earthquakes of magnitudes 5.4 and 6.1 destroyed buildings throughout the Umbria region. On Oct. 30, an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude ravaged the areas of Rome and Norcia, Italy. Dr. Margarita Segou, an earthquake seismologist, reported, “Today’s event of magnitude 6.6 is largely considered a triggered event by the August mainshock…”

These magnitudes can be somewhat misunderstood. Reporting on earthquakes largely employs the Richter scale, which measures seismic activity rather than the impact on populations. This can be measured by the Mercalli Intensity Scale, which states activity above a 6.0 on the Richter scale results in a IX rating, with significant damage to building foundations and ground, as well as damage to underground pipes. Italy has been hit by three IX earthquakes since August this year.

Luckily, no fatalities have been reported from Italy’s most recent earthquake. Regardless, devastation is evident throughout the region. Charity and donations from outside regions are greatly needed in providing basic supplies for citizens and ensuring rescue efforts can run smoothly.

As expected, media coverage is high following natural disasters. For about a week, news stories and donation bids circle news outlets and social media feeds. There is a tendency to help as soon as the first story hits. Blood donations and food drives are organized. Monetary donations are wired, often to the Red Cross, which offers much-needed relief to citizens. Then coverage dwindles down as interest thins.

As soon as coverage dies down, so does national interest. When the disaster is no longer shocking and new, we move on to other things. Meanwhile, need continues in the devastated areas. With infrastructure ruined and basic supplies largely depleted, people in these emergencies need help for more than a week.

This dilemma often drudges up arguments of responsibility and what’s ethical to do in response to natural disasters. Some argue that it isn’t our responsibility for the U.S. to rebuild other countries. The opinion to “take care of America first” is reasonable. We cannot and should not devote every resource to other nations when our country has room for serious improvements, just as we should not individually sacrifice our own health for the good of another person. That is not manageable practice.

But a week of assistance is almost laughable following multiple earthquakes in Italy, for instance, or Hurricane Matthew that devastated Haiti earlier this month. Haiti was hit the hardest by Hurricane Matthew, with death rolls rising above 1,000 people by Oct. 9 after initial building devastation, flooding and a cholera outbreak. A week of donations is not enough to even patch up these disastrous conditions.

It’s easy to default into self-preservation and hope for the best for places outside our borders. Haiti is a prime example of a country which needs more than this shallow help. Deciding that Haiti and Italy and other countries should expect these disasters is only part of the problem.

Being aware of the danger is one step. There are many reasons that countries like this cannot prep the whole region for what may come, from national poverty in Haiti to historical buildings with aging structure in Italy. These measures take legislation and money — both of which are difficult to gather while people are still reeling from past tragedies.

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