SpotlightWhat Happens After a 6.4-Magnitude Earthquake?

A psychological take on the socio-political consequences of the November 26th earthquake.
Kejsi Beqiraj2 months ago7711 min

After a terrible knee pain from a desperate attempt to make it out of my 9 storied building whilst the 6.4 magnitude Earthquake was shaking Albania, I woke up on the back seat of my car to find out that 5 were pronounced dead and hundreds were severely injured. With a heavy heart and weary feet, I made it all the way to the Church to give it up to that one thing greater than all of us. However, in light of recent days and developments, I have come to the conclusion that divine intervention might not be needed at all. According to history, the tremor that struck Albania on November 26th may be an omen of rapid sociopolitical change.

The very same earthquake, or at least its siblings, have visited us numerous times throughout the years. Seismologists agree that tremors close to cities located along Albaniaʼs coastline, namely Shkodra, Durres, and Vlora, are all caused by the collision between the Euro-Asian and African tectonic plates. Moreover, they are periodically repeated every 30-40 years. As a result of the accumulated energy during these periods, they have been some of the most brutal tremors in our history, quite often exceeding Magnitudes of 6. What is even more astonishing about this family of earthquakes is the fact that they seem to have “overlooked” some of the most important events in our national history, bringing about dramatic changes. Is it a totally unrelated coincidence, or is there a correlation between such natural disasters and deep-rooted sociopolitical improvements? If so, what is in store for Albania?

We have seen the ups and downs of the recent earthquake played out so publicly during the last 3 weeks. On one side of the aisle, there are thousands of now homeless people struggling to keep up with their most basic needs, such as food, water, housing, relief aid, etc. and on the other, there are the ones who have raised millions of dollars and sent uncountable aides from every country where Albanians have ever step foot on. These differences in resources, especially those quintessential to maintain a happy life, are bound to create intrastate conflict. Dawn Brancati at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences argues on his paper “Political Aftershocks: The Impact of Earthquakes on Intrastate Conflict” that not only do these scarcities provoke conflict but also lead to anger and violence.

“Groups become frustrated when they are denied material benefits that they once had in the past or that other groups have over them.”

Brancati’s conclusion is simply a derivative of Relative Deprivation, one of the most fundamental theories of psychology which states that lack of resources to sustain the lifestyle that an individual or group of people is accustomed to will result in consequences such as collective action and anger. In cases of earthquakes and other natural disasters, these consequences become even more apparent as a result of overnight changes in their conditions.

Real-life scenarios have demonstrated that is exactly the case. Many were optimistic that the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 30,000 citizens would finally bring people together and put an end to the ever-lasting conflicts in the Middle East. Lalit Mansingh, ambassador of India to Washington, D.C suggested that the tragedy would help to further the peace process by uniting people under a common fate and goal. The aftermath? A decade later, locals were still living in the shelters after the rehabilitation failed to take off as a result of the rising conflict in the area. Violence in the region remained unabated. The same could be said for Colombia. The 6.2 magnitude tremor that struck western Colombia left the country in social unrest. Up until that point, the government, led by Andrés Pastrana Arango, had managed to negotiate a peace settlement with the guerilla movement FARC. Contrary to peace enthusiasts’ belief, what was meant to be a moment of further advancement in this process, was quickly turned into a historic attack against the FARC where numerous citizens were pronounced dead. The Arango administration was heavily criticized by human rights groups for using “anti-narcotics” aid from the United States as a mere excuse for military aid, which was later used to attack the FARC rebels. Arango’s party lost the following elections. A similar fate had Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sri Lanka’s president, and world’s 25th most influential woman according to the 2005 Forbes list. After the 2004 earthquake that struck Sri Lanka and neighboring countries, hopes for unification were quickly dashed as parliament was dissolved and riots erupted all over the country. Kumaratunga was quickly removed from office when she declared a joint mechanism with LTTE rebels to rebuild the areas destructed by the earthquake. The following year she stepped down from her party’s leadership and exiled in the United Kingdom due to “continuous harassment”.

In a nutshell, these examples make it clear that relative deprivation is an inevitable consequence of natural disasters. Taking into consideration the unrest it has brought to other countries, repercussions in Albania might be even more severe. As of now, no details have been made clear regarding how the recuperation of the damages is going to be carried out going forward. According to the German national television ARD, damages caused by the tremor of November 26th add up to around 1 billion euros. With only 60 million euros raised, it is safe to assume that the rehabilitation process is not only going to be a challenge in terms of technical resources but also financial ones. The current political crisis might contribute to the collective frustration of the already burdened population. Taking into consideration all these factors, we believe the following months are going to be characterized by important sociopolitical developments.

On another note, we are deeply touched by the immense altruism, kindness, and sympathy shown by each and every Albanian during these hard times. Staying true to the vow of brotherhood, Albanians opened up their homes and hearts to those affected by the earthquake in ways we have never seen before. We would like to express our appreciation for the action taken by the UNYT Charity Club. We are extremely proud of whoever contributed, however they could. Humanity works!

 

Kejsi Beqiraj

Kejsi is a sophomore at University of New York in Tirana. His “a-ha!” lightbulb moment in life was the second he realized that words carry the vibration needed to serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement, and life-changing revelations. As such, he utilizes the power of storytelling to connect with people on a deeper level of humanity. At Insider, he is Editor-in-Chief for the 1st Managerial Board. He seeks to bring into spotlight social issues that have long been the cause of injustice and inequality in our society.