The World Health Organization warned earlier this year that "the world will face another influenza pandemic – the only thing we don’t know is when". As well as flu, the world could yet face an outbreak of any other number of high-threat pathogens, from SARS, Zika, and Nipah to the ominiously named "Disease X". In terms of possible ways humanity could go out, global epidemics are up there with antibiotic resistance and nuclear war.
Researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington, have tried to figure out where in the world harbors humanity's best hope for survival if a catastrophic pandemic were to hit. Narrowing it down to island nations that could act as refuges from the (hypothetical) pathogens, the team ranked 20 possible places where the human race could first survive and then rebuild society.
“The worst-case scenario could see multiple genetically engineered pandemic organisms being released at once," lead study author Dr Matt Boyd said in a statement.
"We need to be ready for these situations. Our study shows that certain island nations have the characteristics needed to preserve technological culture through a catastrophic event.
“It may be that a clear and pressing need arises where the only option for humanity is an island refuge.”
The researchers created a scoring system in order to rank which island nation would be most suitable as a base for humanity's survival, taking into account resources (including energy and food production), population, location, and society.
The study found that if single factors could be mitigated, then some other island nations could become even more suitable bases from which humanity could rebuild.
"For Iceland, overcoming its limited food production, perhaps through scaling-up production; diverting animal fodder crops, such as root vegetables to human food; or reducing food waste, might lift its status to that of the most optimal refuge."
After Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland (ranked 0.71, 0.68, and 0.64 out of 1 respectively) there was a big drop off in suitability for the task. Malta, Japan, Cape Verde, the Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago were next, though none of them reached a score as high as 0.5.
"[Rebuilding society] will require post-catastrophe mobility, extensive resources, and a large population that can spread around the globe again. Several of the island nations that were examined lacked independent resources, including energy supplies, and also lacked the social capital and political stability to make effective post-catastrophe cooperation likely."
So for now, if a pandemic were to hit, our best hope for humanity might just be Australia.