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Cred Crunch Newsletter, Issue No. 60 (September 2020) - Technological disasters

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Natural vs. Technological Disasters

Brussels, 2020 – Two main groups of disasters are distinguished in the international disaster database EM-DAT: natural disasters and technological disasters. While natural hazards are associated with natural disasters, industrialization and technologies have resulted in accidents or unexpected and uncontrolled release of hazardous and explosive materials, which we consider technological disasters.

Although technological disasters account for about a third (36.4%) of all reported disasters in EM-DAT since 1900, this type of disaster generally receives less attention from the scientific community. Nevertheless, impactful and often dramatic events such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 or the more recent Beirut harbour explosion on August 4 of this year covered international headlines due to the huge humanitarian, political, social and economic shock of these events.

Comparing the human impact of natural and technological disasters between 1900-2020 shows that on average, natural disasters caused 2083 deaths/disaster and 526 807 affected/disaster compared to 42 deaths/disasters and 915 affected/ disaster for technological disasters. This might be explained by the narrower spatial and temporal scale of technological disasters compared to natural disasters. The pattern in the occurrence of technological disasters over time from 1980 onwards is presented in Fig. 1.