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To Bounce Back From Disaster, Balance Is Key

A new book draws recovery lessons from recent natural and man-made calamities.
A giant crane pulls crushed cars out of the debris after an expressway was devastated during the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.
A giant crane pulls crushed cars out of the debris after an expressway was devastated during the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters

When a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Chinese province of Sichuan in 2008, entire towns were wiped away. Some 70,000 people died, and nearly 1.5 million had to be relocated. But with the summer Olympics were right around the corner, China’s government tried to reconstruct everything in as little as three years.

Not surprisingly, quality suffered. Rural residents lost their livelihoods as the government relocated them to urban areas. Others wound up in oversimplified villages that ignored basic things like road access. And because national officials ignored local knowledge of hazards like landslide zones, high-profile developments came undone before completion.