Earthquakes: Why some natural disasters are more deadly than others

Lombok’s lesson: Time for disaster-sensitive tourism

Let’s face it: Indonesia is prone to natural disasters, ranging from a 24-meter-high tsunami that devastated Aceh to a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rattled Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Sunday.

The Aceh tsunami in 2004, the Yogyakarta earthquake in 2008 and the Padang temblor in West Sumatra in 2009 all alarmed us and we have learned a lot since then. Over the past decade, we have obtained more knowledge, skills and equipment to handle various disasters. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) deserve our tribute for proving their professionalism in coping with disasters….


Earthquakes: Why some natural disasters are more deadly than others

A collapsed mosque in northern Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. A 7.0 magnitude quake hit Lombok on August 5th, and a second on August 9th. Photograph: Adi Weda/EPA

I am a scientist who spent my life studying disasters. From the statistics controlling the timing of earthquake clusters, to leading a team to model the likely social and economic impacts of an extreme flood, I have endeavoured to understand how natural disasters become human catastrophes.

Through studies of older events and models of future ones, we find that the problems are only partly scientific or technological. The human dimension, the planning, the response and the social dynamics, often determine the ability of societies to survive the Big One, the natural disaster so large that it threatens the functioning of society itself…

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