• benefit–cost analysis;
  • construction;
  • disaster mortality;
  • political economy

Some 60,000 people worldwide die annually in natural disasters, mostly due to the collapse of buildings in earthquakes, and primarily in the developing world. This is despite the fact that engineering solutions exist that can eliminate almost completely the risk of such deaths. Why is this? The solutions are expensive and technically demanding, so their cost–benefit ratio often is unfavourable as compared to other interventions. Nonetheless, there are various public disaster risk reduction interventions that are highly cost-effective. That such interventions frequently remain unimplemented or ineffectively executed points to a role for issues of political economy. Building regulations in developing countries appear to have limited impact in many cases, perhaps because of inadequate capacity and corruption. Public construction often is of low quality, perhaps for similar reasons. This suggests the need for approaches that emphasise simple and limited disaster risk regulation covering only the most at-risk structures—and that, preferably, non-experts can monitor—as well as numerous transparency and oversight mechanisms for public construction projects.