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In the News

Telling the Story of People Affected by Earthquakes

Alice Griffiths

12th February 2021

Teaching about natural hazards, I’ve been struck by the way that people affected by these events are often dismissed as hopeless and helpless, both in the media and (sometimes) in Geography classrooms. They are written off as ‘communities lacking resilience’.

While some places and populations are clearly more vulnerable to natural disasters, as a result of location, physical geography and lack of access to services, we should choose our language with care when depicting fellow humans facing jeopardy in ‘far off places’. Is the reality that countless efforts of individuals, families or community groups make a real different in the face of adversity?

A recent edition of BBC Radio’s Crossing Continents provides a window into the lives of poorer communities living in Bucharest and the earthquake threat they face in ‘Europe’s most dangerous capital’.

The last major quake in Romania was in 1977, when almost 1600 died (mostly inhabitants of the capital) and 35 000 buildings collapsed. The World Bank estimates that the cost of a similar event today would be £9 billion. The BBC’s correspondent interviews local activists giving their time and money to avoid what they call ‘stupid deaths’, or those they view as preventable. One young volunteer explains how he trains search and rescue dogs on rubble-strewn, demolition disposal sites. Another interview is with a group who are scoping out how best to use drones to assess earthquake damage, and compiling a list of heavy machinery in the capital to inform future relief efforts. They recognise their own limitations but don’t let this hold them back from acting; getting organised.

These local NGOs and individuals are stepping up, determined to imagine a different outcome for Bucharest despite the failures of the previous Communist government and lack of ambition of current bureaucrats. Against the backdrop of a city peppered with poorly-maintained buildings, weakened by previous tectonic events (communists painted over the cracks with ‘anti-seismic paint’) and further strained by botched conversion to provide cheap homes, these local activists make a difference.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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