The worldwide picture of disasters shows that death tolls are fairly stable, although not significantly decreasing, but losses are rising steeply. Social, economic, and military instability coupled with high rates of population growth fuel increases in the casualties and hardship caused by natural disasters in developing countries. Since the early 1990s much attention has been focused on the complex emergency, in which persistent warfare, particularly of the low-intensity guerrilla kind, leads to social and economic breakdown, which then interacts with repeated natural disasters, especially flood and drought. Much of the complexity of the resulting situation lies in trying to end the conflict while reinstating sustainable development and disaster efforts, or at least avoiding political and military control of relief supplies, with all the ensuing moral dilemmas that aid agencies must face in order to maintain their neutrality.
In richer countries death tolls in natural disaster tend to be low (e.g., an average of 570 a year in the United States), but the cost of damage and other losses has skyrocketed. The 1989 Loma Prieta, California, earthquake caused
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approximately $12 billion in losses. The 1994 Northridge earthquake, also in California, resulted in costs more than twice that amount, but a year later the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Kobe, Japan, cost an estimated $131.5 billion. The scenario for a future repeat of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake points to losses of $2,800 billion. In part, however, this reflects a growing tendency to quantify new forms of indirect impact, especially lost production and sales. Nevertheless, the losses are undeniably rising, which points to growing economic vulnerability to disasters. Although in percentage terms insurance payments after disasters have doubled since the early 1990s, they still only cover one-sixth of losses, and the insurance industry is struggling to find the capital to underwrite huge claims: In 1992 Hurricane Andrew sent eight insurance companies in Florida into receivership.
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