Natural disaster hot spots

The tsunami that struck Southeast Asia the day after Christmas last year and left 200,000 to 300,000 people dead and two million in poverty has lent new urgency to disaster research, says Columbia University Centre for Hazards and Risk Research (CHRR).

A new study attempts to provide a framework for thinking about (and preparing for) future catastrophes; researchers gathered data showing which parts of the world have been most ravaged by nature – floods, droughts, earthquakes, cyclones, volcanoes and landslides – over the past 25 years, says CHRR.


  • Approximately 20 per cent of the Earth's land surface is exposed to at least one of the natural hazards evaluated while 160 countries have more than one quarter of their population in areas of high mortality risk from one or more hazards.

  • More than 90 countries have more than 10 per cent of their population in areas of high mortality risk from two or more hazards.

  • More than one-third of the U.S. population lives in hazard-prone areas, but only one per cent of its land area ranks in the highest disaster-related mortality risk category.

  • Taiwan may be the place on Earth most vulnerable to natural hazards, with 73 per cent of its land and population exposed to three or more hazards;

  • More than 90 per cent of the populations of Bangladesh, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, Burundi, Haiti, Taiwan, Malawi, El Salvador, and Honduras live in areas at high relative risk of death from two or more hazards.

    Poorer countries in the developing world are more likely to have difficulty absorbing repeated disaster-related losses and costs associated with disaster relief, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

    Moreover, the research may help to identify areas, like Siberia and north-central Canada, where the dangers of natural disasters are the smallest, says CHRR.

    Source: Matthew Quirk, Nature's Wrath, Atlantic Monthly, September 2005; based upon: Arthur Lerner-Lam, Margaret Arnold and Max Dilley, Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis, Columbia University Centre for Hazards and Risk Research, March 2005.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 1 November 2005
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