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< prev - next > Disaster response mitigation and rebuilding Reconstruction PCR Tool 10 Quality Control (Printable PDF)
The poor are more vulnerable to disasters
When an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck San Francisco on October 17th, 1989,
it killed 62 people, affected another 3,757 and caused 5.6 billion US$ of damage. In contrast, a similar
sized earthquake that hit Gujarat in India in January 2001, killed 20,005 people, left 167,000 injured
and over one million homeless, at a slightly lesser loss of 5 billion US$. The next month, an earthquake
measuring 6.8 just off the coast of Seattle, only killed one (from a heart attack, not building collapse),
left 400 people injured and relatively few buildings damaged. But in 2003, the earthquake that affected
Bam, in Iran, measuring only 6.6, killed 26,796, injured 30,000 and left 100,000 homeless. And the
earthquake measuring 7.0 that struck Haiti on January 12th, 2010, killed a massive 222,570 (1 in 15 of
the about 3.7 million affected) and injured around 300,000, many of those in the shanty towns of Port-
au-Prince; an estimated 1.5 million became homeless. In May the year before, a much larger earthquake
measuring 7.9 struck Sechuan in China, killing 87,476 (only 1 in 595 of those affected) and injuring
around 360,000 people; the damage caused was a massive 85 billion US$, but only about 240,000 were
left homeless. Less than two months after the Haiti quake, on February 28th, 2010, one of the strongest
earthquakes ever, measuring 8.8, hit ConcepciĆ³n in Chile; it only killed 562. See, for example. Suresh
(2005) and the OFDA/CRED International Disasters Database, EM-DAT (
disasters-trends, consulted on October 25th, 2010).
7.9 7
150,000 6.8 6.9
6.9 6.6
7.0 6
20,005 26,796
62 562
Each of these earthquakes struck relatively populated areas and the figures clearly indicate that
in disasters of similar magnitude, rich countries suffer less than poor countries. Furthermore, within
countries, the poorer neighbourhoods such as the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince are more affected. There
appears therefore to be a correlation between poverty and disaster impact. Rich countries like the USA and
Chile, are able to build to high quality standards, incorporating disaster-resistance. Besides, the majority of
their population can afford to comply with these standards. Other countries, such as India, have adequate
construction standards, but stark inequality within the population means many people cannot afford to
build according to these standards. In most poor countries like Haiti, over half of the urban population
cannot afford to build according to prevailing standards. They construct houses as best they can, but often
their quality is inadequate to sufficiently withstand disasters.
post-earthquake reconstruction (see case 3 in the
Applications section).
There is also a growing body of evidence that
the cost of improving the disaster-resistance of
buildings is relatively modest compared to the huge
losses that can result from the impact of disasters
on unprotected buildings (see: Benson and Twigg,
with Rossetto, 2007). In Bangladesh, for example,
it can cost only an additional five per cent to
make simple modifications to improve the cyclone