The European Commission has released its latest Atlas of the Human Planet 2017 report focusing on the global exposure to the dangers of the natural world. And things are not looking good for billions of people worldwide.
The report focuses on six natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods, tropical cyclone winds, and cyclone storm surges. Earthquakes are the hazard with the highest potential for victims, as 2.7 billion people – one in three – are now exposed to them worldwide. The number of people that inhabit at-risk areas has almost doubled in the last 40 years, with 25 percent of Europeans live in a seismically active area.
Next up is floods. One billion people across 155 countries are exposed to deadly floods. It remains the most frequent natural disaster and large-scale deforestation and changes to the topography is aggravating the situation. Almost 770 million people in danger of flooding live in Asia, 56 million in Europe, and about 14 million in North America.
According to the report, more than 400 million live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of one of the 220 most dangerous volcanoes. And a good chunk of those people living near volcanoes are in coastal areas where the chance of a tsunami is also quite high. The inhabited areas exposed to tsunami risk are four times larger in Japan than the exposed regions in China, the second country most at risk from tsunamis.
China and Japan are also the two countries most at risk from strong cyclone winds, which 50 million Chinese people also at risk from a storm surge, where the sea level is suddenly increased due to the cyclone.
The report is clearly very bleak but it is also very important. It will help scientists and policy makers understand how certain risks and dangers have changed in the last 40 years and help to model and predict natural disaster patterns in the future. It will also help find the most effective policy based on resilient communities.
The report is based on the most complete dataset on human settlement, known as the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL). The atlas will be presented during the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meeting in Cancun, Mexico, this week.
The scientists from the EU Joint Research Centre combined Earth observations from space, past risk, and state-of-the-art modeling to use the GHSL to help assess the danger billions of people are exposed to. With many natural disasters still being difficult (or impossible) to predict, this could be crucial in convincing politicians to safeguard the lives at risk.