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Earthquake fatalities : the interaction of nature and political economy
journal contributionposted on 2005-09-01, 00:00 authored by Nejat AnbarciNejat Anbarci, M Escaleras, C Register
To say that the level of fatalities resulting from an earthquake is inversely related to a country's per capita level of income is hardly novel. What makes our approach novel is that we relate fatalities to both per capita income and the level of inequality that exists within a country through their joint impact on the likelihood of collective action being taken to mitigate the destructive potential of quakes. We first develop a theoretical model which offers an explanation as to why, in some environments, different segments of society prove incapable of arriving at what all parties perceive to be an agreeable distribution of the burden of the necessary collective action, causing the relatively wealthy simply to self-insure against the disaster while leaving the relatively poor to its mercy. Following this, we test our theoretical model by evaluating 269 large earthquakes occurring worldwide, between 1960 and 2002, taking into account other factors that influence a quake's destructiveness such as its magnitude, depth and proximity to population centers. Using a Negative Binomial estimation strategy with both random and fixed estimators, we find strong evidence of the theoretical model's predictions. That is, while earthquakes themselves are natural phenomena beyond the reach of humankind, our collective inaction with respect to items like the creation and enforcement of building codes, failure to retrofit structures and to enact quake-sensitive zoning clearly plays a part in determining the actual toll that a given quake takes. And, it is through these and other examples of collective inaction that limited per capita income and inequality couple together with a given quake's natural destructive power in determining the actual fatalities resulting from a quake.