Among natural hazards, geophysical hazards are one of the most common as well as one of the most life-endangering ones. When referring to »geophysical hazards« earthquakes, (dry) mass movements, and volcanic activity normally come to mind describing “an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering”1. There are, therefore, natural hazards that lead to natural disasters leading to vulnerabilities, which usually include urban development in risk-prone locations, population growth, environmental degradation, land use changes, weak governance, climate change as well as poverty, and inequality.
Next to geophysical hazards, there are also other naturally occurring events, for example hydrological (floods, landslides, and wave actions), meteorological (storms and extreme changes in temperature), and climatological hazards (drought, wildfires, and glacial lake outbursts). What most of them have in common is the damage they cause, may it be material damage, loss of lives, or something else. However, the damage caused by some natural hazards can be greater and also produce larger costs in the long run, which is the case for geophysical hazards, especially earthquakes.
Yearly, the National Earthquake Information Center locates more than 20,000 earthquakes around the globe and approximately 55 earthquakes every day; in 2021, for example, around 2,200 earthquakes with a magnitude above 5.0 occurred. This makes earthquakes one of the most regularly occurring natural hazards with a huge impact on society, with economic, social, and environmental consequences.
The Social Impact of Earthquakes
Among all the impacts mentioned the social impact of earthquakes is probably the most serious as strong seismic events have the tendency to cause many injuries as well as the loss of lives. According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the number of people affected by earthquakes between 1998 and 2017 was 125 million, whereas the number of deaths was 747.234, which is far more compared to other disaster types. But it’s not only the loss of lives that’s problematic when talking about the social impact that seismic events have, it’s also the fact that many homes as well as the infrastructure can be severely damaged or destroyed. Due to earthquakes, “[…] people lose their property and become homeless. Since 1900, earthquakes have made more than 65 million people homeless. This figure is increasing due to the general growth of population all over the world and its density2.” A further social problem caused by earthquakes is also the disruption of vital resources, for example, clean water, as the damage done to water pipes can lead to water contamination.
But these are only the short-term consequences. When speaking of the long-term impact earthquakes have on society, the health aspect should also be taken into account. Earthquakes not only cause an increase in direct mortality but also “[…] a decrease in health and long-term care insurance was observed in the month of the earthquake3.”
Nevertheless, “[…] the ratio of fatal outcomes during earthquakes has reduced. One of the possible reasons for this advancement is the use of advanced engineering practices all over the world. Further reduction of earthquake-related deaths is possible in case of use of high levels of seismic zonation by governments of the countries under an increased seismic risk as well as control and education of individuals who try to build non-engineered constructions4.”
The Economic Impact of Earthquakes
Closely connected to the social impact earthquakes have on society is also the economic impact, which can be both, short-term and long-term. Of course, the economic impact depends on the country’s economic standard as well as the state of its infrastructure is in; nevertheless, the short-term impacts of earthquakes usually include the destruction of businesses, industries, as well as necessary infrastructure. “Moreover, such issues as looting can sometimes be observed. In addition, the destruction of roads and railways, as well as other items related to transportation, negatively influence economy because they make business relations more complicated5.”
In addition to short-term consequences, there is also the long-term economic impact that earthquakes normally cause. Long-term economic impact usually comprises the necessity to rebuild, may it be infrastructure, transportation networks, or peoples’ homes. This is both time- and cost-consuming as reconstruction usually demands huge investment in the damaged area. “Therefore, the expenses on economic development reduce, which leads to income losses6.” According to the research made by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the economic loss directly connected to earthquakes was at least $661 billion $ between 1998 and 2017.
The Environmental Impact of Earthquakes on Society
The social and economic impact of earthquakes is usually far greater than other natural hazards but there is also another impact that should be taken into consideration – the environmental impact. Although perhaps not as evident as the social consequences and not as cost-consuming as the economic impact, the environmental consequences of earthquakes can also be quite substantial. From an environmental point of view, moderate to strong earthquakes can destroy both natural and built landscapes, increase the risk of gas pipes exploding and therefore fires as well as the contamination of whole regions.
Moreover, earthquakes endanger woods and their fauna and usually trigger further natural hazards, such as landslides or tsunamis, which can destroy the entire flora and fauna. Besides the short-term consequences, there’s also the long-term impact strong seismic events can have. “A more global or long-term environmental impact of an earthquake is the loss of significant landmarks, both natural and human. Moreover, such events as biodiversity are at risk as well7.”
The Relationship Between Individual Earthquake Impacts
Although all of the above-mentioned earthquake impacts can cause severe short- and long-term damage per se, they are also closely related and influence each other. This not only goes for the social and economic impact, but also for their relation to the environmental impact. Social consequences, such as loss of people’s lives and injuries, negatively influence the economy of the influenced area. What we’re referring to in this case are costs of treatment and insurance expenses but what also negatively influences the economy is the reduction in the working population as a large workforce is usually needed to restore the infrastructure and services after earthquake destruction.
A Further socio-economic impact of earthquakes is also related to a decrease in GDP per capita, which leads to a general reduction in quality of life. What also contributes to a lower quality of life is the environmental impact of pollution that an earthquake can cause, leading to an increased risk of disease among the population, which especially affects the health of the people. Further environmental impacts also include landscape destruction, which is hazardous specifically for agriculture, which also has economic consequences. Moreover, environmental consequences of earthquakes are also threatening industries as “[…] the necessary resources can be destroyed in fires or by floods that develop after an earthquake. On the whole, the impacts of earthquakes are a complex issue because their aspects are related and intensify each other8.”
1) Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/files/61119_credeconomiclosses.pdf
2) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
3) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
4) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
5) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
6) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
7) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/
8) Study Corgi. Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society. Accessed on 07-Oct-22. Available at: https://studycorgi.com/earthquakes-impacts-on-society/