SFU Canada Research Chairs Seminar Series: "Increasing Risk from Natural Disasters in the Twenty-first Century"

Thursday, March 25, 2010
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. John J. Clague
Canada Research Chair in Natural Hazard Research, Department of Earth Sciences


Global risk from hazardous natural processes will increase through the remainder of this century, not because the incidence of natural disasters is changing, but rather because our exposure to them is growing. The human population will reach more than 9 billion by the middle of this century, about one-third larger than our population of 7 billion. Much of this growth will occur in areas that experience large earthquakes, cyclones, or floods. The growth in human numbers will be accompanied by continuing urbanization, an inevitability that will see well over half the world's population living in cities by the middle of the century. With urbanization will come a rapid increase in the number of megacities, many of which are, or will be, located in areas prone to natural disasters; this trend will be accompanied by greater concentrations of infrastructure, human capital, and national wealth. A large earthquake in a growing city such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, or Istanbul, or a powerful hurricane along the Washington, New Jersey, or New York coast, would be a national disaster with global economic fallout. The global economic consequence of natural disasters is a developing issue, first illustrated in 1995 by the Kobe earthquake and later, in 2005, by Hurricane Katrina. A discussion of vulnerability to natural disasters must distinguish risk to human life from economic risk. Major technological and engineering improvements in developed countries, such as those of North America, Europe, and Japan have reduced the risk to human life to a very low level. Large earthquakes in California in 1989 (Loma Prieta) and 1994 (Northridge), for example, each caused less than 70 fatalities. However, no such improvements have happened in earthquake-prone developing countries, consequently the risk to human life there is growing. In contrast, economic risk is increasing in both developed and developing countries due to the aforementioned trends in urbanization and concentration of economic wealth in cities. The Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes, for example, caused a total of $20-25 billion damage, yet they were by no means the largest earthquakes that are possible in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Natural catastrophes causing more than $100 billion damage are likely in coming years.

About the Speaker

John Clague is a environmental geologist with 40 years research experience in natural hazards (earthquakes, tsunami, landslides, and floods) and climate change, both in Canada and abroad. His other professional interest is improving public awareness of earth science by making relevant geoscience information available to students, teachers, and the general public. John holds a Canada Research Chair in Natural Hazard Research and is Director of the SFU Centre for Natural Hazard Research. Prior to joining to SFU's faculty in 1998, John was a Senior Research Scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada. He gives frequent talks to school and community groups and is regularly called on by the media to comment on a range of earth science issues. For more information about the Centre for Natural Hazard Research and Dr. Clague's research, please see: www.sfu.ca/cnhr/ and //www.sfu.ca/~qgrc/