While richer nations do not experience fewer natural disaster events than poorer nations, richer nations do suffer less death from disaster. Economic development provides implicit insurance against nature’s shocks. Democracies and nations with higher quality institutions suffer less death from natural disaster.This is intuitive to many, such as the MR reader who asked, "Which earthquake killed more people today?", FP Passport in its initial assessment of the Chilean earthquake, and the NYT's David Brooks in a prescient January column:
On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died. [Note: latest estimates are up to 300,000, or 3% of Haiti's population]Now, if only we knew more about what works in development...
Update: "Less death from natural disaster" should not be confused with lack of devastation:
Photos from Boston.com, via Ben Casnocha who describes his firsthand experience of the temblor.