When a ceremony was held on Sunday to remember those who died in the Ludian earthquake that jolted the southwestern county in Yunnan province on Aug 3, what strikes us the most is the question: how could a quake with a magnitude of only 6.5 on the Richter Scale result in 617 deaths? With another 112 people still missing.|
That most of the houses at the epicenter and large areas around it were leveled to the ground suggests that the majority of the houses in this area were below the earthquake-resistance standard, even though the place is known to be on a seismic belt.
The same is true of the 2008 quake in Wenchuan county in Southwest China's Sichuan province, which caused more than 80,000 deaths, including those people still officially missing; and the one in Yushu county of West China's Qinghai province in 2010, where the death toll was nearly 3,000 including those missing.
The immediate association that can be drawn is these are all underdeveloped areas.
The message is the country's development is quite unbalanced. The urbanization drive with the focus on the development of small cities and towns that the central government has made the decision to launch can help address this problem.
It is an ambitious plan to realize the transfer of more than 100 million rural villagers from villages to small cities and towns by the year 2020. However, there must also be the ambition to ensure that these small cities and towns provide these new urbanites with apartment buildings of sound enough quality to resist at least a magnitude-7 earthquake on the Richter scale.
For those living on the seismic belt, they never know when an earthquake might hit.
There is no technology advanced enough to forecast a quake, but it should not be difficult to tell which places are on a seismic belt and therefore might be hit by a quake at some point. Neither should it be difficult for a local government to draw up a detailed plan about the priority areas for urbanization.
Then residents in the places most vulnerable to earthquakes will have the hope of moving into homes that are strong enough to withstand them. Such projects, if they substantially reduce the economic losses and death tolls caused by earthquake causes, would also save the country the money it spends on disaster relief.