On April 28, Eastern Taiwan was rattled with as many as 26 earthquakes overnight, with three of them being identified as major earthquakes. While recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador have captured people’s attention, the past few weeks have in fact been shaky, with a spate of earthquakes being reported in seven days. On April 10, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck Afghanistan, followed by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake felt in Myanmar on April 13. Then, on April 14, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan was reported. Two days after the grievous calamity, on April 16, a second major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 shook Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. On the same day, Ecuador’s Pacific coast was rocked by the country’s most powerful earthquake in decades, a 7.8 magnitude tremor.
Rescue efforts have intensified after twin earthquakes devastated Japan. The strong tremor, with a magnitude of 6.5, was followed some 28 hours later by another, registering a magnitude of 7.0.
Our planet and environment are changing at a rapid pace which human intelligence and technology cannot keep up with. One year ago, on April 25, the Himalayan land of Nepal suffered a double blow of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake and a rare strong aftershock, measured at 7.3 magnitude. The deadly earthquakes killed more than 8,000 people, with 17,866 people injured and 366 still missing.1 The recent double tremor in Japan consisted of an “aftershock” that was stronger than the “fore shock” earthquake, a situation which hadn’t been foreseen by experts and seismologists.
Economic and Cultural Impacts
The second earthquake in Japan was a double disaster as it left the survivors of the first earthquake suffering a psychological fear of further tremors. The prevalent damage and fear of another earthquake means thousands of evacuees have taken refuge in temporary tents. 59 victims were found dead and tens of thousands of others were left homeless.2 Fortunately, Japan’s nuclear authority reports that there has been no damage to any of the nuclear facilities in the area.
The earthquakes have created economic damage to Japanese automobile and electronic manufacturers as production was disrupted in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, which hosts Japan’s largest semiconductor manufacturing bases. This has triggered ripple effects as conglomerates including Toyota, Honda, Sony halted their production in the aftermath. Toyota shut most of its vehicle production in Japan because of parts shortages stemming from the earthquakes.3 General Motors similarly shut down production at four plants, including its flex line in Oshawa for two weeks due to a supply disruptions caused by the earthquakes.4
Amidst the chaos, many were shocked by the collapse of the Kumamoto castle — one of Kyushu's icons, a samurai-era castle which had previously withstood bombardment and fire in its four centuries of existence,5 and which together with the Himeji and Matsumoto Castles are the “Three Famous Castles” in Japan. The structure of the stone walls which the locals hold in high regard, was breached by the destructive earthquake. This will be a painful and huge cultural loss to the Japanese community who are always keen to preserve their long-standing heritage.
Political Calculation Comes Before Humanitarian Aid?
On the same day when the Kumamoto earthquake occurred, Ecuador was struck by a catastrophic tremblor which was almost 16 times stronger than the quake in Japan that morning.6 Unlike the Japanese, who are well-trained and have experience with earthquakes, Ecuador has what seems to be a long road to recovery ahead. The death toll has hit 646 as of April 24, and it is still rising as rescuers dug through rubble and debris.
The first to send help to Ecuador were its neighbouring countries including Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador.7 The spirit of cooperation and solidarity among the Latin American countries definitely helped to alleviate the damage that Ecuador had suffered.
While the US was quick to respond to the earthquake in Kumamoto, with a US Army UC-35 aircraft arriving in Japan to join the relief efforts just two days after the disaster, US humanitarian aid has yet to arrive in Ecuador, even though it is geographically closer to the US. The US has responded in a slower and less aggressive way to the earthquake that had decimated Ecuador, a country that is located in its backyard.
While the US was quick to respond to the earthquake in Kumamoto, US humanitarian aid has yet to arrive in Ecuador, even though it is geographically closer to the US.
Historically, bilateral relations between the US and Ecuador has been flourishing as both shared partnership and cooperation. However, its current leader Rafael Correa, who has led the country since 2007, has then moved Ecuador away from the pro-US neoliberal economic model, and reduced the influence of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Ecuador’s holding back on signing a free trade agreement with the US, and the renewal of an expired US lease on a military base in the country, have exacerbated the already strained relations.
Behind emotional episodes of warm and touching stories, it is political calculation that takes precedence over humanitarian efforts.
The last major US humanitarian assistance deployment within Japan came during Operation Tomodachi, when 24,500 personnel were mobilized at peak levels following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.8 Why did the United States respond so quickly to the Japanese disaster? Azaho Mizushima, Professor of Waseda University, Faculty of Law argues that:
“The military force [in the earthquake relief work] was utilized as a tool for diplomacy; it is unlikely that this [type of] diplomacy comes as the result of only good intentions. ‘Operation Tomodachi’ is directly linked to the interests of the United States as we see.”9
While international news has been extolling the bravery of Dakyo, a white Labrador which died from exhaustion after saving seven people in the aftermath of Ecuador’s earthquake, unconditional love of this kind can only be found in man’s best friend but not in a geopolitical game disguised as political generosity.
1. Shrestha, M. (2015, May 10). Death toll in Nepal earthquake tops 8,000. CNN News. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/10/asia/nepal-earthquake-death-toll/
2. Kumamoto’s Earthquake, death toll rises to 58 with 10 still missing. (2016, April 21). Yahoo News, Retrieved from https://tw.news.yahoo.com/%E7%86%8A%E6%9C%AC%E5%9C%B0%E9%9C%87-%E6%AD%BB%E4%BA%A1%E4%BA%BA%E6%95%B8%E5%A2%9E%E5%8A%A0%E5%88%
3. Japan earthquake forces GM to stop production at Oshawa plant. (2016, April 22). The Canadian Press. Retrieved from http://www.citynews.ca/2016/04/22/japan-earthquake-forces-gm-to-stop-production-at-oshawa-plant/
5. Saoshiro, S. (2016, April 16). Japan quake breaches the historic walls of 400-year old Kumamoto Castle. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-quake-castle-idUSKCN0XD0AZ
6. Ellis, R. (2016, April 19). Ecuador and Japan earthquakes: Are they related? CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/18/americas/earthquakes-five-things-to-know/index.html
7. Slavin, E. (2016, April 17). US military prepares to aid Japan after massive earthquakes. Stars and Stripes. Retrieved from http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/us-military-prepares-to-aid-japan-after-massive-earthquakes-1.404892
9. Mizushima, A. (2012, December 10). The Japan-US “military” response to the earthquake, and the strengthening of the military alliance as a result. Fukushima on the Globe. Retrieved from http://fukushimaontheglobe.com/the-earthquake-and-the-nuclear-accident/whats-happened/the-japan-us-military-response