Photos: Anne Sanquini
IMPACT: Deaths from Natural Disasters are Preventable
Earthquake risk is great and growing for people in cities of developing countries. Since 1900, four of every five deaths caused by earthquakes have occurred in developing countries. In the year 1950, two of every three people living in earthquake-threatened cities lived in developing countries; by 2000, that number had increased to nine of every ten.
People in poor and emerging economies are far more likely to die in natural disasters than people in wealthy economomies. In poor countries, fatalities from natural disasters are even escalating. Why? Urban populations are growing rapidly, unchecked development packs people into risky places, communities lack safety and technical expertise, and basic needs take priority over planning.
Little has been done to reduce the risk that these people confront. Most people living in cities of industrialized nations are aware of their earthquake risk; in developing countries, most people are not. Building codes are common in industrialized nations; in developing countries, they are not, and when developing countries have building codes, these are often not enforced. Experts in earth science and earthquake engineering in developing countries are few in number, ill-equipped, and isolated.
Yet much can be done. Since 1900, industrialized countries have markedly improved their construction practices and emergency response capabilities. As a result, the average number of fatalities per fatal earthquake in those countries has been reduced by a factor of 10. Over the same period of time, the average number of fatalities per fatal earthquake in developing countries has remained unchanged. Learn more.
Fatalities in Comparable Major Earthquake Shaking, 2010
A comparison of earthquake fatalities in 2010 shows the positive return from taking preventive action. During Haiti's M 7.0 earthquake, unsafe buildings caused the deaths of an estimated 130,000-300,000 people (depending on the date source) and accounted for most earthquake deaths in the world that year. There were 22 earthquakes of M 7.0 or greater than the one in Haiti, including a M 8.8 earthquake in Chile that affected an equal number of people with equal intensity. The difference in survival can be attributed to Chile's robust safety program, instituted after its devastating earthquake in 1960.
Illustration: summarizes results from the USGS PAGER system