Exposure and vulnerability turn a hazard into a disaster

Shakemap of Haiti Earthquake in 2010 © Photo by Volker Kannacher (2013) CC BY-ND 2.0

Haiti, Chile and Japan

The Haiti earthquake measured severe intensities VII to IX on the Modified Mercalli scale (a scale for measuring earthquake intensity), and mortality was very high, with 222,517 fatalities (UNOCHA, 2010). This high death toll reflected the exposure of large numbers of people, and vulnerability factors such as extreme poverty, corruption, a fragile democracy, and a lack of earthquake experience in a country where they only occur infrequently (Keefer et al., 2010).

In contrast, the 27 February 2010 earthquake in Chile was by any standards an extreme event, releasing five hundred times more energy than the earthquake in Haiti the previous month. However, it only killed 486 people, a fraction of those who died in Haiti. In contrast to Haiti, exposure was lower, and Chile has a history of dealing with earthquakes. It is also an upper-middle-income country with a consolidated democracy and low levels of corruption.

The earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, on 3 September 2010 also produced intensities of up to IX on the Modified Mercalli scale. However, only some 500 buildings were destroyed and no lives were lost. While an estimated 154 people were killed in another earthquake on 22 February 2011 (New Zealand, 2011), the low casualty rate in both events reflects tough building regulations, strict enforcement, and experience in dealing with earthquakes.

Related Theme Pages

Earthquake Haiti Chile New Zealand