Impact of earthquakes worldwide
Fig.1 The largest earthquakes of the last decade (2004-2014) - Source: GEM, 2014
Earthquakes are unpredictable phenomena with rapid onset that represent the second major cause of death from natural hazards. In a time where uncontrolled and unplanned development of urban sites - especially in fast-growing transitional economies - exposes populations to new and unexpected risks and amplifies the consequences for people and assets, investing in disaster risk reduction becomes a priority.
According to OCHA the 2015 Nepal earthquake left 3 million people in urgent need of food and assistance within the first 24 hours, made 37,000 to flee in refugees camps and reported 8617 deaths. Nepal had an estimated damage of 10$ billion, nearly half of its gross domestic product (GDP) and considering its economic growth rate, it is not likely to rebuild this ravaged economy in the oncoming years.
These numbers demonstrate on the one hand that vulnerability factors as urban poverty, distribution inequalities, knowledge gaps or absence of building regulations might transform a natural event into a humanitarian catastrophe, on the other hand that the economic impact of natural disasters can destabilize national economies for years.
The years 2010-2011 have been particularly challenging in this regard, with the Haiti earthquake that exacted a huge toll in terms of human losses and brought devastating consequences on the national economy, followed by the Chile earthquake and the massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan earthquake on March 2011. What made a difference was the level of preparedness and the mitigation efforts carried out along the previous years: the number of deaths in Chile (520) was in fact incomparably less than the number of deaths in Haiti (222, 570), , and proved the effectiveness of strengthening disaster risk governance and investing in disaster risk reduction.
Why understanding risks?
To tackle the devastating consequences of earthquakes and at the same time improve community resilience we need to find innovative solutions to inform risk reduction policies.
The disaster risk reduction process is a cycle where information is a constant resource: we need reliable data when an earthquake occurs to best organize rescue and humanitarian activities; we want the Damage and Loss Assessment conducted on the basis of an accurate preliminary scenario definition; we wish of course to “build back better” on the basis of trustable hazard and risk evaluations.
Fig.2 The Disaster Risk Reduction cycle – Source: OCHA
This process needs more real- time accessible, evidence based and applicable seismic risk information. There is the need to make data publicly available and empower capacity building in order to lead to better value for the investments developing countries put in research, and to facilitate their first steps within risk assessment.
What we do for communities
GEM’s response is to share reliable open data earthquake risk information in support of sound disaster-risk-reduction and decision-making processes.
- Cutting-edge resources include open source software with user-friendly interfaces (the OpenQuake suite is made of Platform, Engine and modelling Tools), open data and methodologies, capacity building and knowledge sharing mechanisms.
- GEM’s collaborative approach guarantees a continuous validation of existing and newly developed data and resources by the international scientific community, with a consequent progressive global acceptance of its standards.
- Its bottom-up approach empowers risk assessments with local insights and shapes analysis on the basis of local needs.
- Its knowledge sharing philosophy bolsters a real democratic debate about earthquake risk by engaging local communities, policy makers, governments and associations to innovate the concept of development itself and to be masters of their own future.
- Its private-public nature allows the creation of synergies with various sectors like insurance or engineering that are key players in the field of risk reduction.
GEM’s tools are being applied worldwide to support regional and local projects with the aim of progressively build a Global Earthquake Model. To facilitate and promote this goal, GEM has been establishing Regional Communities with the long-term objective of encouraging a regional structured approach to seismic risk mitigation, and a global network of implementing partners with the capacity to provide technical support and training on the use and application of GEM’s tools and methodologies. From Nepal to South America, from Africa to Europe, GEM is carrying out projects that lay the foundation of disaster risk reduction activities and hopefully will lead to a great impact for communities and environment.