This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Populations at Risk as 2014 Comes to an End

Several years ago I was part of a National Research Council committee that authored a report on populations at risk, providing input especially to the U.S. Census Bureau's International Programs and the U.S. State Department Geographer's office in terms of how to assess the number and characteristics of people at risk of injury from disasters of any particular kind. As the year ends, I was interested to see a report from CoreLogic in Irvine, California, summarizing natural disasters in the US and the rest of the world. [The report is available for free download after you register.] CoreLogic is a corporate data analysis firm and, full disclosure, I pay attention to it because my son-in-law is Senior VP of Finance and I know that he knows what he's doing. The report notes that the U.S. had fewer natural disasters last year than the year before, but the global picture is more complicated:

The year 2014 is trending towards becoming the warmest year on record, with the temperatures through the first 10 months of 2014 being the warmest yet...Examining international hazards such as the typhoons that occurred in the western Pacific and earthquake activity around the world, it is clear that the reduction in natural hazard damage that the U.S. is currently experiencing is not the same worldwide. The temperature distribution on the planet is not uniform either, and much of the U.S. experienced extreme cold while temperatures in the remainder of the world balanced out. Australia did not experience any extreme bushfires, however, the Pacific experienced average to above- average cyclonic activity, and the normally benign Northern Indian Ocean basin experienced two intense cyclones. Additionally, extreme convective storm losses in Germany and Australia are a reminder of the loss potential of these powerful perils.
This past year also saw the civil war in Syria escalate into the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Millions of people are at risk there and in the surrounding region. The tragedy is that we can better prepare for natural disasters than we can for human-made disaster. At the same time, natural disasters have a bigger impact as population growth entices people to move into ever more risky environments, and human disasters are more likely as populations grow quickly in areas that don't really have the resources to support those numbers.

1 comment:

  1. Prof Weeks - I saw some quick projections. Deaths due to natural disasters (earthquakes, cyclones etc) are expected to skyrocket over the next few decades. It's a truly eye-catching chart if you see the numbers. It is NOT primarily due to global warming or those factors. The main cause is demographics - simply that there will be a lot more people living in the potential disaster zones. I was reminded of this when I provided assistance to the Mozambique Flood Crisis - back in 2000 (or perhaps 2001, 2002). There was a series of cyclones that hit Mozambique from the Indian Ocean, coupled with unusually heavy rains across South Africa. Therefore, flooding in the downstream areas of the rivers was intense. The real problem, though, was that the alluvial plains had been settled by tens of thousands of poor people who were share cropping. The alluvial valleys are very fertile, so it is easy to ignore the risks in those regions. In reality, the poor farmers were "not supposed to be there" because it was a known flood plain. But the rules were not enforced in Africa, and the ensuing disaster - was a DISASTER.

    This is a very graphic illustration of what is going to happen in the future on a broader scale. Large numbers of people who are resident in "high-risk" zones will be stricken by problems such as flooding, tidal waves, large cyclones, eruptions etc.

    However, we should not be too smug. The West Coast of the USA is overdue for some extremely large earthquakes and tidal waves. Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are at high risk, and so is the coast of Oregon. We are far from being immune to the "effects of demographics" on the risk zones of major disasters.

    And by the way - Happy New Year!!
    I hope it does stay happy :-)

    cheers, Pete, Redondo Beach