Discuss the view that the impact of earthquake hazards depends primarily on human factors (40 marks).
It is impossible for anybody to argue that human factors do not have an effect on the impact caused by earthquake hazards; however the extent of the effect is debatable depending on the situation. This can depend on many different aspects, for instance the level of development in the relevant country, the standard of infrastructure, the magnitude and location of the quake and lastly what time the quake occurs. In order to properly assess whether the impact of earthquake hazards depends primarily on human factors, it is necessary to look at a range of case studies which will provide a balanced overview.
For instance – looking at the LEDW – examples such as the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 as well as the earthquake in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 could suggest that the impact depends primarily on human factors as these countries are not fully developed and thus might have underdeveloped infrastructure and building regulations. Contrary to this, the MEDW with examples such as the Northridge earthquake in 1994 could provide a contrasting argument in terms of how human factors affect the impact. However, there are always multiple factors which the impact depends on, regardless of the development of the relevant country.
The impacts can be split into categories such as social, economic and environmental in order to gauge the range of impacts and whether they depended predominantly on human factors. For example, we can compare the social impacts of the Haitian earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale with the 1994 Northridge earthquake in L.A, measuring a similar 6.7. The amount of fatalities and injuries in Haiti was extreme, over 230,000 died and many more were injured. This impact could be argued to have been due to human factors as the capital, Port au Prince, was poorly built as well as this, the earthquake hit the most densely populated area of the country. Therefore it is clear to see that the impact here does depend somewhat on the human factors.
Comparably, the death toll in Northridge was officially placed at 57, a dramatically different figure to that seen in Haiti. Figures shows that 20,000 people were immediately made homeless, however it is difficult to argue that this was primarily due to human factors as many of the buildings affected were within mere kilometres of the epicentre. However, further research as a result of this quake showed that some of the buildings in Los Angeles did not perform well, these included multi storey wood frame buildings and those with a weak first floor. Therefore, from this conclusion it can be argued that the damage to certain buildings was due to human factors including poor planning for the structures of buildings.
The Sichuan earthquake in China occurred at 2:28pm on the 12th of May 2008. The timing of this earthquake meant the impacts were already worsened regardless of the human factors. Because of the time that the quake occurred, many children were at school and most adults were working. Therefore this made them more susceptible to extreme impacts. Other physical factors that worsened the impact include the shallowness of the epicentre at only 19km, in addition to this the terrain in central China is very firm, this means the seismic waves can travel long distances without losing much power. All of this evidence would suggest that the impact does not depend primarily on human factors as there are so many other aspects that contributed.
However, there were also many human factors present in the earthquake in China, for instance thousands of school children died and this was mainly due to poorly constructed schools throughout the area, at least 7000 schools collapsed causing many child fatalities. This is considered one of the most prominent and important impacts of the Sichuan earthquake as many families in China adhered to the One Child Policy, thus the badly built schools meant many parents lost their only child having a knock on effect on future generations. Therefore some of the most important impacts did depend on human factors as if the schools had been built better; the extent of child deaths could have been reduced significantly.
It is difficult to argue convincingly that the impact of human hazards depends primarily on human factors as in every case there are always numerous factors that contribute to the extent of the earthquake. The easy route would be to argue that less developed countries are impacted more seriously by earthquakes due to human factors such as poorly built infrastructure and high population densities however this is not necessarily the case as in L.A research showed that some of the impacts were primarily dependent on the human factors such as poorly constructed buildings in the area. But, all impacts of any case study cannot be proven to be as a result of human factors, thus it is impossible to argue that the impacts of earthquakes hazards depend primarily on human factors. The important word is “primarily”, and although it is clear that the impacts are affected by human factors, they are not solely responsible for causing all of the impacts of any earthquake.