|A U.S. federal agency, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), recently released the 2012 Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters Information Report, indicating that the cost of damages across the USA in 2012 from climate and weather natural disasters exceeded US$110 billion, the second costliest year for natural disasters since 1980 — after 2005, the year of Hurrican Katrina. No earthquake losses are among the damage costs for 2012.|
Internationally, Munich Re reported 905 significant, natural hazard loss (catastrophe) events worldwide in 2012 with total losses reaching US$170 billion. Only one earthquake event, the May, 2012 Emilia-Romagna earthquakes in Italy (Mw=5.8), is included among the largest loss events of 2012 – with losses of US$16 billion (compared to Hurricane Sandy losses of approximately US$65 billion in the same year).
Despite under-representation in 2012 natural catastrophe loss figures, the largest natural disaster losses since 1980 are earthquake-related; the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 (Tohoku, Mw=9.0) where immediate losses reached US$210 billion leads the MunichRe list. A U.S. Congressional Research report (Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami : economic effects and implications for the United States, that examined possible loss estimates of cascading damage from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accidents, suggests “physical damage has been estimated from US$250 billion to as much as US$309 billion, the latter figure being nearly four times as much as Hurricane Katrina (US$81 billion) and roughly equivalent to the GDP of Greece and twice that of New Zealand…” and considerably larger than MunichRe estimates.
Although economic losses at this enormous scale of disaster may be difficult to infer precisely, as noted in a previous NISEE post, – “Are earthquake disasters getting worse?” – economists Fabian Barthel and Eric Neumayer have observed that “the accumulation of wealth in disaster-prone areas is and will always remain by far the most important driver of future economic disaster damage.”
In terms of human fatalities, natural disasters in 2012 produced 9,600 fatalities. Modest in comparison with the recent 2010 Haiti earthquake (Mw=7.0) that resulted in over 225,000 fatalities, the 2004 Banda Aceh, Indonesia earthquake (Mw=9.1) and the wide tsunami that followed which combined for at least 220,000 mortalities across Asia, and the 2008, Sichuan, China earthquake (Mw=7.9) with approximately 84,000 fatalities, according to MunichRe.
The risk from natural disaster in the USA remains considerable. In 2010, Robert Roy Britt an editor at ‘livescience.com’ generated a list of top 10 natural disaster worries (hazards) of scientists in the USA… on the list was a hurricane hitting New York City as well as threats posed by storms and heat waves. However, at least six of the ten ‘top’ items were related to the risk of large earthquakes and tsunamis causing massive damage and loss of life in different regions of the USA.