Decline in death rates of disasters. By INDUR GOKLANY
1 February 2005
(c) 2005 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved
From Dr Indur Goklany.
Sir, Fiona Harvey's article on natural disasters and climate change ("Fear of calamity in a changing climate", January 28) misses the single most important fact about weather-related natural disasters: namely, both deaths and death rates have, on average, declined globally since the 1930s. Death rates from the 1930s to the early 2000s for such disasters have declined a remarkable 98.5 per cent, while fatalities have declined a more modest 95.8 per cent! So from the point of view of human life, what does it matter whether or not the number of weather-related natural disasters has increased sixfold, eightfold, or not at all? Notably, the basic data on numbers of deaths used in this figure come from exactly the same source used to construct the maps that accompanied Ms Harvey's otherwise excellent piece.
The story, however, is somewhat different from the point of view of property losses due to such disasters. Analyses for the US, for instance, indicate that property losses have indeed increased, but apparently only because a larger and wealthier population insists on building structures in more hazardous locations (for example on the beach or in flood plains, often aided by misguided government policies and/or insurance companies, which spread the risk of such behaviour to other parties). Once growth in the assets at risk is factored out, we see no trends (up or down) in losses.
Indur Goklany, Vienna, VA 22182, US