Have Natural Disasters Become Deadlier?

57 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2013 Last revised: 18 Jul 2013

See all articles by Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

University of Delhi - Department of Economics; Australian National University (ANU)

Kenneth Hill

Harvard University

Ganesh Thapa


Varsha Kulkarni

Indiana University Bloomington

Date Written: January 1, 2013


The present study seeks to build on earlier work by identifying the factors associated with the frequency of natural disasters and the resulting mortality. Drawing together the main findings, some observations are made from a policy perspective to focus on key elements of a disaster reduction strategy. Countries that were prone to natural disasters in the decade 1970-79 continued to be so in the next two decades. Geophysical factors (e.g. whether landlocked, size of a country) had an important role in explaining inter-country variation in the occurrence of natural disasters. However, income did not have any effect. Deaths varied with the number of disasters; they also varied with (lagged) deaths in the previous decade; poor countries suffered more deaths; and, controlling for these and other effects, larger countries suffered more deaths. The pay-off from learning from experience is high. Even moderate learning can save a large number of deaths (e.g. through early warning systems, better coordination between governments and communities likely to be affected). Growth acceleration would also help avert deaths through more resources for disaster prevention and mitigation capabilities. A combination of the two – learning from past experience and more resources for disaster prevention and mitigation – would result in a massive reduction in deaths from disasters. Attention is drawn to segmented and shallow disaster insurance markets; the Samaritan’s dilemma in providing emergency assistance to poor countries that neglect investment in protective measures; the need for mainstreaming of disaster prevention and mitigation among multilateral development agencies and governments, as also growth acceleration; why short-term relief must be combined with rebuilding of livelihoods and reconstruction, and the potential for public-private partnerships; and, above all, the need for building ownership of local communities and preservation of social networks. A challenge for development assistance is to combine growth acceleration with speedy relief and a durable reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters.

Keywords: disasters, deaths, vulnerability, insurance, reconstruction

Suggested Citation

Gaiha, Raghav and Hill, Kenneth and Thapa, Ganesh and Kulkarni, Varsha, Have Natural Disasters Become Deadlier? (January 1, 2013). Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper No. 181. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2209714 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2209714

Raghav Gaiha (Contact Author)

University of Delhi - Department of Economics ( email )


Australian National University (ANU) ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

Kenneth Hill

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Ganesh Thapa

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Varsha Kulkarni

Indiana University Bloomington ( email )

Dept of Biology
100 South Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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