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Sunday, February 28, 2010

In an earthquake, it's good to be rich.

So far in 2010, there have been 3 large earthquakes.

January 12, there was a devastating earthquake in Haiti, maginitude 7.0.  Death tolls are somewhere in the 100,000-250,000 range.
Yesterday there was a gigantic earthquake in Chile, magnitude 8.8. There were several hundred deaths.
Friday night there was an earthquake in Japan, magnitude 6.9 -- about the same strength as the earthquake in Haiti, but this earthquake made few headlines.

There is a lot more devastation in earthquakes that occur in poorer countries.  This is shown by the 3 recent earthquakes, but it's been studied more intensively.

Matt Kahn has a good paper (and here) on this topic, notes Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution
Using a new data set on annual deaths from disasters in 57 nations from 1980 to 2002, .... While richer nations do not experience fewer natural disaster events than poorer nations, richer nations do suffer less death from disaster. Economic development provides implicit insurance against nature’s shocks. Democracies and nations with higher quality institutions suffer less death from natural disaster.
These results are hardly surprising, but it's good to see them quantified. Richer countries are likely to have stricter building codes (and better adherence). Emergency food and medical aid is likely to be faster in coming.