L'Aquila, And The Global Challenge Of Disaster Recovery

L'Aquila after the 2009 earthquake
L'Aquila after the 2009 earthquake
Felicia Tapia

In L’Aquila, the new houses were supposed to withstand earthquakes, but “they didn’t even withstand the rain.” The grim reality from this central Italian city is laid out by La Stampa on Wednesday, the 7-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 300 people and left nearly 40,000 without homes. The news now is that many of the structures put in place following the disaster have collapsed or been declared uninhabitable, and dozens of people â€" entrepreneurs, architects, technicians and community leaders â€" are under investigation for fraud-related charges.

From the outset, rebuilding efforts in L’Aquila moved at a glacial pace amid fears that criminal organizations had infiltrated reconstruction works. There is still an ongoing debate over how to preserve the town’s historic buildings and fortify them to withstand damage from future disasters.

L'Aquila is not unique. Recovery from natural disasters is filled with unexpected challenges, and too often made worse by human shortcomings. Last year, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people per year have been displaced by natural disasters across the globe. Due to the unpredictability of these events, scientists are worried that with climate change, the number of weather-related calamities will only continue to rise.

Take 5: Natural Disaster Recovery Around the World par Worldcrunch

The aftermath of large-scale catastrophes is felt wherever infrastructures are rebuilt and new social projects emerge in affected communities. After Hurricane Katrina, rebuilding efforts concentrated on New Orleans' French Quarter and popular tourist neighborhoods, while many of the residential areas are still damaged and uninhabited. The Haiti earthquake caused the collapse of the country’s government and communication and transportation infrastructures. Even in less densely populated areas, a lack of resources, poor alternative housing and weak displacement policies have aggravated slow reconstruction projects. Around Cameroon's Lake Nyos, years after poisonous gas killed hundreds, fear of another unpredictable explosion is leading to a slow repopulation of fertile land around the lake.

Yet response to such events shines light on improved recovery projects and allows successful programs to be developed and implemented further. Musicians in New Orleans hope that artistic ventures will breath new life into the city's districts while youth programs in Haiti strive to invigorate young people's engagement in sports and community programs. New technology now allows scientists to better predict rising gas levels in Lake Nyos while in L'Aquila, architects are finding new ways to re-erect and preserve important historic structures.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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