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Cred Crunch Newsletter, Issue No. 51 (July 2018) - Earthquakes in Europe

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Amongst natural disasters, earthquakes are one of the most lethal kinds due to their unpredictable nature and devastating impact they can have in a matter of seconds. They can occur anywhere, at any time and impact differently depending on their magnitude, the season, the built environment, the time of day, causing a wide range of potential consequences on population. This make them a matter of political and humanitarian concern for health practitioners, policymakers and the hazard management community.

EM-DAT data indicates that 504 earthquakes occurred worldwide between 2000 and 2017 (5). In Europe, in the same range of time, among 891 natural disasters, 34 are earthquakes (average magnitude 5.7) affecting 13 different countries, mainly Italy and Greece (A). The impact of which resulted in 701 deaths, 257,303 people affected (including 95,189 homeless and 3,103 injured) and almost US$ 29 billion in economic damages. In 34 earthquakes captured, 15 had a magnitude higher than 6.0.

The year with the highest economic losses was 2012, at 2017 US$ 16 billion, mainly due to the earthquake in Emilia Romagna - Italy.

The second costliest year was 2016, reflected in the impact of three earthquakes affecting the centre of Italy (Amatrice). Finally, 2009 and 2002 are respectively the third and fourth costlliest years in consequence of L’Aquila (US$ 2,8 billion) and San Giuliano (US$ 1) earthquakes (B).

In terms of human impact, Italy witnessed the highest burden of earthquakes with 679 deaths and 124,000 people affected followed by Greece, Serbia and Spain (C).

Earthquakes are not only responsible for many casualties, but also for protracted health problems. The main immediate medical needs are rescue, triage, evacuation and emergency care of major, minor and fatal trauma due to building collapse, entrapment, falls, burns. In addition to this, entrapment under debris and collapsing building are the most common cause of death.

On the other hand, population displacements and crowded shelters, may induce health hazards and lead to communicable or other diseases among the survivors, as well as nutritional problems which can raise and persist even after the emergency is over.

Over the years, scientists and researchers have detected how much an earthquake could potentially damage an area and subsequently they have increasingly focused, in a public health perspective, their attention on the human impact of earthquakes. While there is a predominance of research focused on earthquake-associated mortality, less is known on earthquake-related morbidity.