The 15 most earthquake-prone countries in the world, according to science
- Earthquakes kill roughly 20,000 people each year, on average.
- A new global mapping project shows which regions of the world are most at risk of earthquakes.
- 15 countries account for most of the death and destruction caused by quakes.
Earthquakes kill, on average, about 20,000 people every year.
When a quake strikes, there's very little time to prepare, and survival has a lot to do with luck: Building codes, the time of day, and even the weather (which can trigger avalanches and mudslides) can play a role in how much destruction an earthquake causes.
It has generally been tough to determine where in the world people are most at risk, since there was no standardized, comprehensive way to compare the consequences of shaking around the world.
But now, a new mapping project led by the Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM) has done just that.
"No one's ever created a global earthquake risk map at this level of detail before, and certainly not for the public," GEM Secretary General John Schneider told Business Insider.
GEM scientists pinpointed which parts of the world are most at risk of earthquakes and where people can expect these disasters to do the most damage. They factored in the latest earthquake science, like ground-shake potential, as well as the human element: how exposed and vulnerable people are to earthquakes in different areas of the world. They took into account how fragile people's homes, schools and workplaces are; how densely populated earthquake-prone regions are; and, to some extent, what previous fatality numbers have been. The effort included hundreds of collaborators from public, private, and academic institutions around the world who worked together on what's now an open-source collection of maps.
"This allows one to get much more detailed information about the types of buildings, the population density, the potential for fatalities, the potential for damage, and economic loss essentially anywhere in the world," Schneider said.
After working on the maps for many years, the scientists realized that 15 countries account for most of the death and destruction wrought by earthquakes. They calculated that quakes cost us about $93.7 million globally, when expenses are normalized on a per-meter-squared basis (the researchers accounted for differences in construction costs across countries ).
Of that $93.7 million, the following 15 countries rack up nearly all the damage: more than $71.5 million, the researchers estimate. Here's who's most at risk of a coming quake, according to the experts, in order from highest potential for loss to lowest.
China, a seismically active country with the world's largest population, accounts for roughly half of all earthquake deaths.
Japan sits in one of the most active earthquake zones on the planet: the Pacific Ring of Fire. Fortunately, earthquake-warning systems in the country are second to none.
Iran straddles the spot where the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates butt heads, which is why it sees such frequent quakes.
The Philippines, like Japan, is also in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The country is preparing for a big tremor with drills like the one shown here.
Indonesia is in the same ring.
In Turkey, earthquakes are the biggest natural threat. Istanbul, the country's largest city, sits on top of an active fault line.
The population of India is second only to China, which means the potential for loss of life if an earthquake strikes there is also huge.
Mexico is one of the most seismically active countries on the planet. It sits atop three of the largest tectonic plates on Earth: the North American plate, the Cocos Plate, and the Pacific Plate.
Builders in Nepal are starting to adapt their techniques to make homes and schools more quake-safe.
The mountains of Pakistan are also prone to quakes. In 2005, an earthquake there killed more than 76,000 people.
Bangladesh is one of the world's most crowded countries. Dhaka, the nation's capital, is the most densely populated city on the globe. In 2016, a GPS study of Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar concluded that the northeastern portion of the Indian subcontinent is very vulnerable to earthquakes because it is colliding with Asia.
Ecuador is vulnerable because the Nazca plate is diving beneath the South American continent. This subduction was responsible for the biggest quake of the 20th century: a 9.5-magnitude quake that hit Chile in 1960.
One of the worst quakes to ever hit Guatemala led to 23,000 deaths in 1976. The 7.5-magnitude quake struck Chimaltenango, which is less than 40 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City.
In the United States, a violent earthquake leveled San Francisco 112 years ago. Roughly 3,000 people were killed during the disaster, which ruptured 296 miles of California coastline and left most of the city's residents homeless.
Peru is also located along the boundary of the South American plate and the Nazca plate. In 1970, an earthquake led to more than 66,000 deaths in Peru.
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