(January 2011) This “PRB Web Forum: Natural Disasters and Population Impacts” focuses on the rising damage inflicted by natural disasters. In 2010, a year many analysts consider to be one of the worst ever, there were devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, a volcanic eruption in Iceland that paralyzed air traffic throughout Europe, a crippling summer heat wave in Russia, and major floods in Pakistan. The United States was not immune, with record snowfall in much of the Northeast, mudslides in Southern California, and tornadoes that even struck on New Year’s Eve.
This PRB Web Forum offers discussions, articles, and interviews with leading experts who are researching the links between natural disasters and populations.
Many scientists have linked the increasing number and severity of many such disasters to climate change. Whether a natural hazard such as a storm or a heat wave becomes a natural disaster depends not only on the intensity of the event, but also on the degree of physical and human devastation. When viewing disasters in relation to populations, analysts look at several factors, particularly the types of areas hit and the demographic groups affected. Examining catastrophic events also can help policymakers in their efforts to prepare for and minimize the impact of such disasters. Findings from research on human populations and natural disasters can inform decisions about building codes, the refinement of evacuation procedures, and what financial and emotional assistance to provide survivors.