30 April 2011

Natural disasters death-toll

From Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention by the World Bank:

Earthquakes, storms, and other hazards killed about 3.3 million people between 1970 and 2010, an annual average of 82,500 deaths world-wide in a typical year, a small fraction of the roughly 60 million who die every year and of the 1.27 million killed in traffic accidents alone. Disasters kill many simultaneously and affect many more but evoke more attention than the numbers warrant. For example, for every person who dies in an earthquake, more than 19,000 people must die of food shortage to receive the same expected media coverage, all else equal. That  the  attention  comes  from  sensational  media coverage (“sell newspapers”) is a circular explanation. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others offer different explanations for our emotions ...

Our emotional reaction may be accentuated by a perceived lack of control over the event (Acts of God). But natural disasters, despite the adjective, are not “natural.” Although no single person or action may be to blame, death and destruction result from human acts of omission—not tying down the rafters allows a hurricane to blow away the roof—and commission—building in food-prone areas. Those acts could be prevented, often at little additional expense.