“Most deaths from building collapse in earthquakes occur in countries with high scores for corruption.”

Roger Bilham (University of Colorado)
and Nicholas Ambraseys (Imperial College London).

Clearly there are other factors — poverty for one, proximity to an ocean with the potential for a tsunami and imperiled nuclear plants for another, both as in Japan 2011. But political corruption —and thus inadequate requirements for inspection and construction of buildings — is a factor that people can do something about.


  1. monopole says:

    But building inspection is regulation and therefore an unmitigated evil. Like food inspection, bridge inspection, and health inspection…

    Do you know of any very rickety buildings the libertarians can hold their next convention in?

  2. Robert Nowall says:

    Think “New Orleans.”

  3. Jay Borcherding says:

    High scores for corruption are, broadly speaking, associated with poverty, so the direct problems you cite are typically accompanied by a web of indirect contributors to high death tolls in earthquakes.

    Consider Haiti. Shantytowns–informally constructed slums–are deathtraps in an earthquake, and are an extreme version of ‘inadequate requirements for inspection and construction of buildings’.

    Lack of electricity, or money to pay for electricity, leads to cooking with fire, which leads to deforestation and erosion, which leads to mudslides which can be catastrophic during earthquakes.

    Ineffective to non-existent emergency response capabilities and stockpiles, either by the local government or by local NGO’s.

    Ineffective to non-existent infrastructure in normal times–like decent roads and sewers and clinics–are made much worse by a natural disaster like an earthquakes. Lack of access to clean drinking water can have particularly catastrophic public health consequences after an earthquake.

    Clean up the political corruption (and corruption lower down the pecking order, like among the bureaucracy and police) and some of these problems would be reduced. But the broader problems of poverty would remain–even if corruption is effectively zero, a poor nation will have less capacity to cope with a disaster than a wealthy nation.

    None of this is to say, or imply, that nothing should be done–I’m just pointing out that the problems of corruption are linked to the broader and bigger problems of poverty.

  4. EdS says:

    Taking Pohl’s comment that there other factors like poverty and you would also have to realize that with poverty you’ll typically find a poor education system. It’s very difficult to implement building standards if people can’t read. And if these people are equally poor then they can’t afford to properly construct buildings which might better withstand earthquakes. So the question arises: in a third world country with both extensive corruption and poverty can you reduce deaths from building collapse solely by getting rid of the corruption or solely by getting rid of the poverty or do you have to get rid of both to have any impact?

  5. CCBC says:

    I don’t know that you should exempt Japan. The recent disaster occurred at a nuclear plant that was deemed unsafe by inspectors several years before. And the Kobe earthquake disaster seemed to take down a great many buildings that were supposedly built to code although the government of the day pretended otherwise for a while — they were profoundly embarassed by a number of things about this quake.

  6. Andrew Paul Wood says:

    My country, New Zealand, is notoriously low on corruption, and yet more than a few buildings collapsed with fatalities in the city I live in, Christchurch, when it was struck repeatedly by quakes in September 2010 and February 2011. Earthquakes are sufficiently unpredictable in their effects without dragging corruption into it.