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Disaster Risk to Urban Growth


A pair of new studies say that more people than ever lie in harm’s way from earthquakes, droughts, floods and other disasters, largely because of a surge in urban populations in developing countries. Smaller or poorer countries can be devastated by disasters that are relatively inconsequential in places shielded by size or wealth. While the economic cost from disasters has risen, the cost as percentage of the global economy has been flat. The mortality rate has been declining in many areas. But in hot spots combining dense populations with the risk of earthquakes, floods and other hazards, the potential for catastrophic impact is growing. “Without governance capacity, the faster you develop, it’s almost like the faster you’re building disasters.” The dominant factor raising death tolls and economic losses from disasters is humanity’s hastening transformation into a mainly urban species, with a surge of people in search of work settling in marginal urban lands and shoddy housing. “Some of the statistics are almost hallucinatory. Some time before 2050, the urban population of India will rise by 500 million people. Mumbai and Calcutta are already very poor about providing land and housing. How will they accommodate tens of millions more? And both cities are in very hazard-prone locations.”

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