Every time we hear of more natural disasters and the human tragedies associated with them, we begin to wonder if they could have been avoided.
According to a recent report, more than half of the buildings in the United States are placed in potentially hazardous locations prone to fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Interestingly, such areas comprise only one-third of the continental U.S., yet they are the subject of ever-increasing interest from developers and investors who are willing to risk a lot. For example, in 1945, only 173,000 buildings – homes, schools, hospitals and office buildings – stood in a place prone to at least two different natural disasters, while today that number has reached 1.5 million and is growing rapidly.
– We know that climate change raises the risk of some natural disasters. But are losses also increasing as a result of the way we build our cities? – explains climate scientist Virginia Iglesias of the University of Colorado Boulder. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes, and on top of that, despite the best efforts to accurately predict where disasters will occur, buildings are still being put up in these potentially dangerous places – not even the disastrous effects of climate change on natural disasters. What has increased the most is the density of buildings in earthquake and hurricane prone areas (tripling since 1945), so many more people are vulnerable to these types of events, especially since climate matters a lot here and the ongoing changes are making the situation much worse.
The East Coast and states around the Gulf of Mexico are particularly affected, as the risk of earthquakes and wildfires increases significantly on the West Coast. As we just learned, 22% of all earthquake damage in the US is in Los Angeles County, although new buildings are already being constructed with these potential disasters in mind. Of all the natural disasters in the United States, however, floods cause the most building damage – here, by contrast, slightly fewer buildings are being built than before, and dams are being constructed, so the risk of danger is theoretically decreasing, but still present. Increasingly dangerous, however, are fires, which in the U.S. are taking extreme forms, and it is estimated that even those currently safe regions, soon will not be so. Between 1992 and 2015, an average of 2.5 million homes were within a kilometer of such a fire, which is very alarming. In short, we need to pay more attention to where we build, otherwise disasters will become our everyday reality – also in our country, as it suffices to look at the recent events in the Małopolska region, which was swept by a tornado.