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Natural Disasters and Economic Development: Some Data

Here’s a letter that I sent this morning to the New York Times:

About the Haitian earthquake, David Brooks says that “This is not a natural disaster story.  This is a poverty story” (“The Underlying Tragedy,” Jan. 15).

Empirical research reveals that Mr. Brooks is correct.  For example, in a 2005 paper, economist Matthew Kahn (now teaching at UCLA) found that, while rich countries experience just as many natural disasters as do poor countries, persons in rich countries are less likely than are persons in poor countries to die from such disasters.  Specifically, a country of 100 million people with a per-capita income of $8,000 will experience about 530 fewer deaths from natural disasters each year than will a country with the same population but where per-capita income is only $2,000.  Raise the per-capita income from $8,000 to $14,000 and the annual expected death toll from natural disasters falls by another 233 persons.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Kahn blogs at Environment and Urban Economics.  You can find the paper mentioned above in this post of his; it’s “paper #1.”

FYI, Haiti’s annual per-capita income is about $1,300 (in 2008 dollars).  Annual per-capita income in the Dominican Republic is about $8,200.  It’s likely that, had the quake struck Santo Domingo rather than Port-au-Prince, the population-adjusted death toll would have been lower.