I am writing this in Lisbon, a city whose history includes an earthquake as a defining moment. In 1755 the city was devastated by an earthquake estimated at 8.5 – 9. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and widespread fires across the city. Thousands of people died and more lost their homes. Even the city’s geography was changed as foreshore was pushed up out of the sea. Economists estimate that the immediate impact cost the country between 32 to 48 % of GDP (source; The Economic Impact of the Lisbon 1755 Earthquake (pdf) )
Contemporaries described the city following the triple disaster as an apocalypse and it took years to recover and rebuild. In the rebuilding and recovery phase there was significant innovation; new buildings had to include techniques to withstand future earthquakes. And the seeds of scientific thinking around earthquakes is in evidence in a parish survey following the earthquake.
I grew up in New Zealand, a country with a history of earthquakes, I have an enduring mental image of railway tracks flicked into two steel ribbons through the force of the 1987 Edgecombe earthquake. So this is a subject of long-term interest to me.
We know from history that it takes years after a big earthquake to recover and rebuild. So I’m watching the news from Nepal, looking at the devastation and thinking how challenging it will be for this relatively poor country to recover. It is frightening. On social media I’ve seen all sorts of coverage; drone footage of the damage, statistics in updates, and endless photos of rescues, devastation and tent cities.
It’s easy to get the news, it’s harder to know what to do. In this early, emergency, phase the best thing to do is to donate whatever amount you can. The Rubin gallery which focuses on arts from the Himalayan region has put together a list of charities working in the region. Donate if you can. Donate now for emergency relief, and/or in the months to come for the incredible rebuilding work that will be needed across a wide part of the country.
It took Portugal years to recover, and it was at the head of an incredibly wealthy empire back in 1755. For a country as poor as Nepal this disaster could wipe out an entire year’s GDP.