Friday, May 24, 2013

Natural Disaster Vulnerability vs Income

The above comes from Kahn, M. The Death Toll From Natural Disasters: The Role of Income, Geography, and Institutions and is rather out of date (only through 2002, which misses a lot of really big natural disasters in the last decade).  If anyone knows of a more recent plot, please point me there.  The chart shows the expected relationship between income (x-axis, log scale) and deaths (y-axis): rich countries have better infrastructure and institutions and therefore when disaster strikes, the carnage level is a lot lower.

If anything, the relationship is weaker than I expected, though it would probably look more pronounced with a linear scale on the x-axis rather than log.  It's significant that no developed country lost more than  a couple of hundred people in any disaster between 1980 and 2002.

It wasn't a natural disaster, but I wonder if this isn't important background to 9/11 - contributing to the sense of outrage that losing ~3000 people in a single event just isn't something that happens in wealthy countries.

Note that this is relevant to the point I made in this post: one should be careful extrapolating past civilization collapse experiences to modern society because we are running on much higher levels of economic surplus, and this makes us more resilient to at least certain kinds of threats (like natural disasters).


rjs said...

too many missing varibles (ie, population density, geography) and too short a time span to make much out of that (not to refute your premise)...

here's the top ten in the 2000-2010 decade:

wikipedia has some death lists by type of disaster:

rjs said...

we also dont know which way the causality runs; it could be those countries that are blessed with fewer natural disasters have more opportunity to increase development & wealth..

Chris Reynolds said...


The US: Volcanoes, earthquake zones, rivers that regularly flood on a massive scale, topography driven extreme weather (Tornado Alley/Gulf Coast).

Japan: Repeated very destructive tsunamis and earthquakes.

The UK, Benelux, France, Germany, (The core of the wealth of Western Europe: No volcanoes, no earthquakes, river flooding limited, extreme weather far less marked than the US.

All of arguably similar prosperity (when compared to the spread of standards of living on earth). While Europe had the lead on industrialisation, once US and Japan caught on they seemed to thrive, despite catastrophes.

There may be some examples such as the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh, where climatic factors (drought - Hadley cell) or building a nation on a river delta (floods) are a factor. But as a rule I'd say that disasters aren't.

Geographical position, resource availability, and governance seem to be greater issues.