Earthquake deaths mainly due to corruption

Most fatalities from earthquakes in the last 30 years can be linked to corruption in building practices and lack of building standards.

“While a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck in New Zealand in 2010 resulted in zero fatalities, an identical 2010 quake in Haiti resulted in a death toll reaching six figures”.

A new assessment of earthquake fatalities in Nature:

Nicholas Ambraseys, Roger Bilham. Corruption killsNature, 2011; 469 (7329): 153 DOI: 10.1038/469153a

Science Daily reports:

A new assessment of global earthquake fatalities over the past three decades indicates that 83 percent of all deaths caused by the collapse of buildings during earthquakes occurred in countries considered to be unusually corrupt.

Authored by Professor Nicholas Ambraseys of the Imperial College of London and Professor Roger Bilham of the University Colorado at Boulder, the study also found that in some relatively wealthy countries where knowledge and sound business practices would be expected to prevail, the collapse of many buildings is nevertheless attributable to corrupt building practices…… The authors determined that there is roughly a one-to-one relationship between a nations’ wealth and its perceived level of corruption. “Less wealthy nations are the most corrupt,” said Bilham, also a fellow in the CU-Boulder based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. “We found that fully 83 percent of all deaths from earthquakes in the last 30 years have occurred in nations where corruption is both widespread and worse than expected.”

Corrupt building practices — which are generally covert and hard to quantify — can include the use of substandard materials, poor assembly methods, the inappropriate placement of buildings and non-adherence to building codes, said the authors……

The poorest countries are the most corrupt, but some are more corrupt than others. A weighted regression line (dashed) divides nations that are perceived as more corrupt (below the line) than might be expected from the average income per capita.

……. The authors noted that while a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck in New Zealand in 2010 resulted in zero fatalities, an identical 2010 quake in Haiti resulted in a death toll reaching six figures. “Widespread anecdotal evidence points to the collapse of structures in devastating earthquakes as a result of corrupt building practices,” said Bilham. “In this study we have attempted to quantify that perception.

“Corruption is found to be far worse in some countries than others, despite a measure of wealth that tells us they should do better,” said Bilham. “It is in the countries that have abnormally high levels of corruption where we find most of the world’s deaths from earthquakes.”

The global construction industry, currently worth $7.5 trillion annually and which is expected to double in the next decade, is recognized by experts as being the most corrupt segment of the world economy, said the authors.

Since 1980, deaths due to an absence of effective earthquake engineering activity have averaged about 18,300 per year, according to the authors.

 

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