Last year was the worst year on record for economic losses due to earthquakes especially in Japan and New Zealand, according to a report from the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology based on the CATDAT damaging earthquake database. In 2011, total damage caused by earthquakes and their secondary hazards, including tsunamis and landslides, cost 365 billion USD, most of which is from the Tohoku earthquake that hit Japan (335 billion USD) making it the costliest natural disaster on record. 19,300 people died and 450,000 lost their homes after the tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan. The Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand caused a total of 20 billion USD in damages.
A total of 133 earthquakes were recorded for 2011 including major quakes in the US, Turkey, China and parts of India, Tibet and Nepal. 20,500 people died due to earthquakes in 2011 which statistically is actually lower than the past two years, but is not far from the annual average of 21,800. According to CATDAT, 2011 ‘was the highest death toll year in developed nations versus developing nations’ over the past 111 years. While any large number of fatalities caused by earthquakes is staggering, it appears that deaths caused by earthquakes is actually lessening over time; perhaps showing that developing strategies to improve buildings to withstand earthquakes as well as emergency planning that can reduce loss of life is working.
Developed countries have a clear advantage in that they normally have the resources available to design and implement resilient infrastructure, but last year showed the world that in many cases wealthy nations are also vulnerable to large magnitude quakes. While people living in developing countries are likely more vulnerable overall when it comes to earthquake hazards there is still much that can be learned by nations as a whole to prepare for earthquakes taking into account the level of damage in Japan and New Zealand.
Building damage caused by earthquakes follows a similar pattern to fatalities, but is much more dispersed as tens of thousands of buildings were damaged by earthquakes.