Which countries are least vulnerable to natural disaster?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 24 2011 7:01 PM

The Safest Countries in the World

If you're looking to avoid natural disasters, you might consider moving to Estonia.

The tsunami-damaged city of Rikuzentakata, Japan. Click image to expand.
The tsunami-damaged city of Rikuzentakata, Japan

A 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Burma on Thursday. Meanwhile, Japan is still struggling to limit the damage inflicted by its March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In 2005, the Explainer named Storrs, Conn., the U.S. city safest from natural disaster. But which countries are least vulnerable to natural disaster?

Probably Estonia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Andorra. EM-DAT, a catalog of more than 11,000 major natural disasters, has no record of fatal floods, droughts, earthquakes, or severe storms in any of these countries from 1900 to 2009. (Nor could the Explainer find news reports of such incidents after 2009). Run by Belgium's Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster, EM-DAT is the gold standard for these statistics. But a word of caution for those interested only in so-called acts of God: The "natural disasters" category also includes catastrophes that generally involve some human blame, such as famine, cholera, and wildfires.


The records are also incomplete, particularly for years prior to EM-DAT's establishment in 1988. The database lists no fatal natural disasters in Singapore, despite floods in 1978 that killed seven people. (Ten UAE sailors went missing after Cyclone Gonu hit in 2007; it's unclear whether they were intentionally or mistakenly omitted from EM-DAT.) It's possible that Qatar and other countries spared in the record books haven't been as lucky as they seem.

Mortality figures aren't necessarily the most telling indicator of a country's vulnerability to natural disaster, but they're the most accurate type of record available. They also provide a convenient way of comparing apples with oranges—the relative damage inflicted by cyclones versus earthquakes, etc.—in a way that simply counting the number of incidents can't. But mortality data do skew the results slightly, since wealthier, more sparsely populated countries will sustain fewer fatalities.

Most researchers who study disaster risk focus on the most vulnerable, rather than least vulnerable, areas and for obvious reasons—this is where development and relief organizations want to spend the most time and resources preventing deaths from future disasters. There's a healthy disagreement about exactly which countries are the most vulnerable, but Ethiopia and Bangladesh typically rank toward the top.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.