Who’s getting the worst of natural disasters?

Have you ever thought why catastrophes caused by natural events are more destructive in developing countries? An example? See the table below that compares the human impact (i.e., people killed or requiring immediate assistance during a period of emergency, that is requiring basic survival needs such as food, water, shelter, sanitation and immediate medical assistance) of natural disasters between the 10 richest and 10 poorest countries.

Source: the International Emergency Disasters Database (2004)

Another one: deaths associated to natural disasters and development status.

Sources: The UNDP (2004) with data from the International Emergency Disasters Database

It seems like an unfair situation and, yet, an expected outcome (a vicious cycle?). Specially, if we agree that risk to natural disaster is a function of vulnerability (determined by socioeconomic and demographic factors, and the environmental context) and hazards’ frequency, duration and magnitude, then we’ll understand better the differences in impact of natural disasters between poor and rich countries. Furthermore, the abilities and, mainly, the capabilities of a country to avoid, mitigate, cope with and recover from the effects of a natural event is determinant for the transformation of that event into a disaster. The following maps built with data from the International Emergency Disaster Database illustrate this assertion. Compare for example United States and Mexico, the former was affected by 23 natural disasters in 2007; whilst Mexico, by seven. However, the number of victims (people reported killed or affected by the event) in Mexico was three times the number in the US. India had 60 times the victims of the US, although it suffered from less number of disasters (not taking into account the characteristics of the event).

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