Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Natural Disasters

Source: The Economist

"More than 240,000 people lost their lives to natural and man-made catastrophes last year, according to Swiss Re. The insurance firm puts the total cost of damages at $269 billion, less than a fifth of which was covered by insurance......China’s earthquake in May left almost 88,000 people dead or missing. The worst catastrophe was tropical cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, which claimed 140,000 victims."

Comment: I was surprised by the huge number of deaths from natural disasters, but such numbers should always be understood in context. Disaster mortality fades in importance when seen in light of some 60 million deaths per year globally. Indeed, compare the mortality from infectious diseases in low income with that in high income countries in the graph below and you will see that there are millions of preventable deaths per year from infections.

That is not to say that we should ignore better protection against natural disasters.

Last week I heard that there is a city of more than 600,000 people in Indonesia with hundreds of thousands living in the coastal plain who are at risk of tsunamis which are all but sure to arrive in the next decade or two. The tsunami warning system has been greatly improved since the 2004 disaster, but donor support is beginning to wane. JAD

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