Paper: Disaster Risk, Social Vulnerability, and Economic Development

This paper examines the extent to which economic development decreases a country’s risk of experiencing climate-related disasters as well as the societal impacts of those events. The paper proceeds from the underlying assumption that disasters are not inherently natural, but arise from the intersection of naturally-occurring hazards within fragile environments. It uses data from the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT),1 representing country-year-level observations over the period 1980–2007. The study finds that low-income countries are significantly more at risk of climate-related disasters, even after controlling for exposure to climate hazards and other factors that may confound disaster reporting. Following the occurrence of a disaster, higher income generally diminishes a country’s social vulnerability to such happenings, resulting in lower levels of mortality and morbidity. This implies that continued economic development may be a powerful tool for lessening social vulnerability to climate change.

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