How exposed are we to natural hazards?

How exposed are we to natural hazards?

By Norberto Ovando

Natural disasters doubled in the last 40 years and one in three people in the world is exposed to earthquakes, reveals the Human Planet Atlas 2017, prepared by the Joint Research Center (JRC, for its acronym in English), which It belongs to the European Commission and was presented during the meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that recently took place in Cancun, Mexico.

More and more people and property are exposed to natural hazards

The atlas covers six major natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tropical cyclonic winds, droughts, and floods. Global exposure to these hazards has doubled between 1975 and 2015, mainly due to urbanization, population growth, and socio-economic development. Some of the dangers pose a threat to a particularly large number of people in different regions of the world.

One third of the population is threatened by earthquakes

Out of all the hazards, the greatest number of people are exposed to earthquakes. The number of people living in seismic zones increased by 93% in 40 years (from 1.4 billion in 1975 to 2.7 billion in 2015). In 2015, more than 400 million people lived near one of the 220 most dangerous volcanoes, exposed to the consequences of possible eruptions.

Tsunamis affect coastal areas in many regions in South America, with dangerous areas most concentrated in Asia. The largest amount of built-up area exposed to tsunamis is in Japan, followed by China and the United States of America.

"The study shows that risks in the context of natural phenomena and their potential effects are not only the result of extreme natural events but are also determined by social conditions."

"No one can influence the strength of an earthquake or a natural cyclone, but preventive measures can be taken to reduce the impact of these natural disasters, such as improving anti-seismic safety or better organizing emergency management," he adds.

In the list of 171 countries, Latin America was like this:

4. Guatemala - 20.10%
7. Costa Rica - 17.17%
10. El Salvador - 16.80%
14. Nicaragua - 14.63%
26. Chile - 11.20% risk of being devastated.
31. Honduras - 10.70%
65. Ecuador - 7.44%
69. Panama - 7.3%
79. Peru - 6.82%
82. Colombia - 6.72%
92. Mexico - 6.23%
96. Cuba - 6.12%
99. Venezuela - 5.89%
112. Bolivia - 4.82%
123. Brazil - 4.21%
126. Uruguay - 3.93%
127. United States - 3.87%
130. Paraguay - 3.65%
131. Argentina - 3.62%

Exposure to natural hazards

More than 170 million people in Europe are potentially exposed to earthquakes, almost a quarter of the total population. In Italy, Romania or Greece the proportion of the exposed population over the total population exceeds 80%.

Flooding is the most common of the hazards studied. Germany has the highest number of people exposed to floods, around 8 million (10% of the national population), followed by France with 5.7 million (9%).

Eleven million Europeans live within 100 km of an active volcano, the eruptions of which can affect not only housing and settlements, but also daily activities, including transportation. Potentially exposed constructed area increased 86% since 1975.

Potential flood victims

Exposure to floods, the most frequent natural disaster, is highest in Asia (76.9% of the world's exposed population) and in Africa (12.2%). The world population potentially exposed to floods is around 1 billion in 155 countries in 2015. 11% of the built-up area on Earth is also potentially exposed to this danger.

In South America, the most vulnerable societies that put the lives of the inhabitants at risk due to floods are those that live in Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile.

89 countries are at risk from tropical cyclones

Tropical cyclone winds pose a threat to 1.6 billion people in 89 countries, up from 1 billion in 1975. In 2015, 640 million people were exposed to extremely strong cyclonic winds.

Why do we need to calculate exposure to natural hazards?

The global analysis of exposure and its development over the last 40 years helps us better understand what affects disaster risk over time and the risk factors. It is also useful for identifying effective policy actions for more resilient communities.

The exposure data and findings from the Atlas support the application of post-2015 international frameworks such as: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the Goals of Sustainable Development (SDG) and the Urban Agenda (Habitat III). Baseline data from the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL, see below) provide information on developments over the past 40 years and the impact policies have on them. Researchers and policy makers can also use the data to aggregate exposure information at all geographic scales, from the city level to the region, continent and world.

How to estimate the exposure?

The 2017 Human Planet Atlas is based on its first edition published in 2016, in which JRC scientists combined Earth observation with spatial modeling techniques to create the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL). The GHSL is the first global, fine-scale, multi-temporal and open data on the physical characteristics and dynamics of human settlements, covering 40 years of data from satellite observations. The GHSL dataset has now been combined with the best available global maps to measure potential exposure to natural hazards over time.

At the United Nations Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, ITC also presented the report "Science for Disaster Risk Management 2017: Know more and lose less", a flagship product of the Center for Knowledge Management. Disaster Risk Committee of the European Commission (DRMKC) State of the art in disaster risk management.

Source EC / JRC / AAPN

Prof. Norberto Ovando

President / Friends of National Parks Association - AAPN -

Expert World Commission on Protected Areas - WCPA - of the IUCN-

Latin American Network of Protected Areas - RELAP -


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