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Dr Marco De Angelis
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The past decade has been punctuated by large-scale natural phenomena. The cost of such catastrophes, whether related to hydrological, atmospheric, or even rarer geological events, is huge. Over the second half of the last century, the total cost of such catastrophes has been multiplied by a factor of 15, clocking up economic losses of around 66 billion dollars per year during the 1990s. Among these phenomena, there are those that cause disasters, i.e. corresponding to infrequent events that have major consequences on the well-being of the region’s population, environment, institutions and financial equilibrium. The predisposition of a region to suffer an infrequent natural disaster is measured by the event’s capacity to generate losses that exceed 1% of GNP, thus resulting in a slow, difficult economic recovery. According to this definition, geological phenomena stand out from other natural events: they represent approximately 15% of the world’s natural disasters but account for one third of all victims and economic losses. 1995 heads the table for the previous decades: this was the year of the Kobe earthquake in Japan, which caused economic losses of 178 billion dollars, the equivalent of 0.7% of the gross world product, which was a new record at the time.
The 2000s were not spared either, with the Indonesian earthquake in 2004, and the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. Together, these two quakes generated losses of around 40 billion dollars, and more than 280,000 victims, i.e. 31% and 80% respectively of economic and human losses caused by natural events, even though earthquakes only represented 6% of disasters in 2010. The Tohoku earthquake in Japan in 2011 is known as being the quake that caused the greatest direct and indirect costs, on a level to match the scale of the earthquake itself (Mw=9): a direct loss of around 187 billion dollars was estimated, while indirect sanitary, ecological and economic costs related to the ensuing nuclear disaster are expected to reach a long-standing record level, although it is still too soon to be able to propose an accurate estimate. Such observations should serve as a reminder that although public policy is paying more attention to phenomena related to global climate change, earthquakes still remain the natural events that are most likely to have disastrous consequences. Unlike floods or storms, which, although likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the years to come in parallel with the climate change, leave us a certain amount of time to analyse future scenarios, earthquakes are already causing huge disasters now. According to R. Brauman (former president of Médecins Sans Frontières), and purely from a point of view of a medical emergency actor who analyzed the emergencies of recent years, a natural disaster is primarily an earthquake, and secondarily an acute climatic event - storm, cyclone , flood - occurring near a densely populated area.