Tag Archives: earthquake

Increasing number of catastrophes and human factor

Peter asked me (here) to discuss the occurrence of natural catastrophes. I have looked at the EM-DAT dataset (here), and more specifically three kinds of risks: earthquakes, floods and storms (in any country over the past century). For earthquakes, we have the following figures,

the blue points are raw data (I mean, public ones, those that can be downloaded on the website), and I added two smoothed patterns, in red (based on splines regressions). This is no reason to assume that there could be an increase of the number of earthquakes. The trend is due to the fact that we look at earthquakes considered as catastrophic, i.e. that caused deaths and severe damages. And as pointed out in Peter’s comment, it means that “the increase in ‘disasters’ might have a lot to do with the development of the population”.
If we look now at storms, we have

i.e. also an increasing trend. But here, we can consider that the trend can be explained by two factors: an inflation due to the value at risk (e.g. increase of concentration of population in some areas as for earthquakes) but maybe also a change that can be related to climate change.  If we remove the pattern du to the increase of value at risk on the raw data (i.e. we divide raw data by the trend observed on earthquakes, the red line), we have

Here it looks like the number of catastrophic storms is increasing (removing the human factor). And it might be possible to relate that trend to climate change. If we look finally at major flood events, we also observe an increase of the pattern,

and we can divide by the trend observed on earthquakes, to obtain

Looking at that graph, it is possible to propose another interpretation about the increase: people might have a shorter memory about rivers than the one they have on earthquakes; and that they think they might influence climate risk, and flood risk, (but not physical ones). I mean that people know where earthquake risk is, and did not really concentrate in those areas during the past century. On the other hand, it is possible to assume that people imagine they can change river design, e.g. building dykes, and though they can control the risk. But obviously they couldn’t.