Natural hazards need not lead to natural disasters


  • Michael Carlowicz


According to Charles Meade of the National Research Council and Thomas Jordan of MIT, the Loma Prieta, Northridge, and Kobe earthquakes resulted in 6000 deaths and $130 billion in property damage, not to mention months of disruption and years of psychological damage. But in spite of their structural and human toll, none of these seismic events was unusual. Each year, an average of 17 earthquakes occur that are stronger than the Loma Prieta quake (6.9 Mw).

And so it is with many natural disasters in recent years. Despite the popular perception that Earth is being ravaged more often today than during other points in geologic history, most scientists believe that nature is no more tempestuous than it has ever been. Nonetheless, property losses due to natural disasters have skyrocketed to an average of $1 billion per week—about 2–3 times the losses in the 1980s—and the public wants to know why.