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The Impacts of Natural Hazards Include Social, Economic and Environmental Effects Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


A natural hazard event can be defined as a natural occurrence that can cause a potential threat and loss of life to people inhabiting a certain area. As well as causing danger to humans, natural hazards can also be crippling to the local economies. An example of this was hurricane Andrew that struck the East Coast of America in 1992, causing $26.5 billion worth of damage. Hazards are a very real threat to humans, with over 1500 active volcanoes and with 50 to 60 eruptions occurring every year.

A multiple hazard region is an area where more than one natural event threatens the local population. This report will, as the title suggests focus on the three impacts of a Natural hazard, Social, Economic and environmental. The social impacts of a hazard include the displacement of a population and how many people died and were injured. The economic impacts are concerned with how the regions economy is affected in the aftermath of the event. This can include immediate cost of having to provide shelter to the homeless to the more long term costs of rebuilding much of a city which was the case in Kobe when $20 billion worth of damage was done by the 1995 earthquake. Environmental impacts include how the regions environment is affected by the event. Over a local area this could include the destruction of rare forest habitat as was the case in the 1997 Montserrat volcanic. Or Global impacts of the event as if a large volcanic eruption occurs, the worlds climate could cool by as much as a couple of degrees.

This essay will focus on a range of natural hazards (tectonic, climatic and geomorphic) and their impacts (social, economic and environmental). The essay itself will use Sumatra as its main case study, while passing references will made to other areas of the world in order to make direct comparisons.

The ideas of LEDCs and MEDCs as a classification method is general, so it is better to refer to a countries economic level on a continuum, but for the purpose of this essay all case studies discussed will be referred to as MEDC or LEDC.

Main body

Sumatra is an LEDC Multiple hazard region that lies in Indonesia. Due to its position, t is susceptible to cyclones that lead to flooding and Landslides. Sumatra also lies near the plate boundary where The Eurasian plate is subducted under the Australian plate. This makes the area susceptible to Earthquakes such as the one that struck in June 2000.

The Landslide in 2003 occurred after torrential rainfall that lasted 2 days. In total 110 people were confirmed dead with another 117 missing (presumed dead). The flooding was caused by the illegal logging of timber from steep valley sides, once the trees have been removed there is nothing to hold the soil together and consequently during heavy rainfall the land is prone to slipping. This can be seen in more detail below:

With the possibility of 300 people killed in this landslide it would be easy to assume that the only impact of this event was social. Although the social impact was large, with many villages being almost completely destroyed and almost all families losing at least one member. The Economic and environmental costs were just as severe. Sumatra itself is an LEDC with much of its income reliant on rubber plantations. Because of the landslide many of the roads leading to and from the plantations were blocked for a number of days. This led to missed deliveries and of course lost revenue for the businesses.

Agriculture is another of Sumatra’s economic mainstays, with much of the produce going to Indonesia. Along with blocked roads, the social impacts of the landslides are related to the economy. With so many dead and injured some farms had a shortage of labour. This in turn lead to a lower crop yield that reduces the revenue made from farming. The main environmental damage done by the landslide was the destruction of ancient tropical forests. These forests, which had been previously decimated by the practice of illegal logging in the area which had helped cause the landslides themselves have been further destroyed by the landslide which has lead to a reduction in the habitat available to native tigers and Elephants who have had their numbers reduced dramatically in the past few years by the activities of Poachers (only 10 t

wo-horn Sumatra rhinos are now left in the area). The Earthquake

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of 2000 also had numerous impacts encompassing social, Economical and Environmental. The earthquake itself struck on the 4th of June and was measured and 6.7 on the Richter scale. Coupled with extensive aftershocks (over 100) the social impacts were large including 100 dead and 500 injured.

The Area was very lucky not to be struck by a Tsunami in the aftermath of this earthquake as the US geological survey issued a Tsunami warning for the western side of the country. If the Tsunami had have hit, the damage would have been far more extensive. In 1998 a Tsunami struck Papua new Guinea after an earthquake of similar strength to the one that struck Sumatra occurred. Waves of up to 10 metres high completely destroyed all coastal villages with over 2000 left dead. The main social impacts were deaths and injures along with families being split up and hypothermia occurring after 25,000 people are forced to shelter outside. On of the more long term social impacts was that the ‘Breadwinner’ of the family having been killed so many families were short of money and therefore food. While most of the economic impacts were the same as when the landslide struck, one of the economic impacts was the damage caused to the fledgling tourist industry.

In recent years some of the population have tried to cash in on wealthy westerners wanting to view the jungle and wild animals in their natural habitat. This Earthquake has, according to the president, ‘set back the tourist industry by at least 10 years’. With many of the tourists areas destroyed by the quake it is easy to see why. Also many would be tourists would have been shocked at the Sumatra governments handling of the quake who seemed to rely more on international aid agencies than handle the disaster themselves. This might have put of tourists as, along fearing the unpredictable nature of earthquakes, the government’s inability to protect them in the event of another disaster. The environmental impacts of the earthquake were small in comparison to the landslides destruction of forest lands. The main environmental impact was the setting up of temporary shelters on land previously uninhabited by people. This has lead to erosion of pasture land which could in turn lead to leaching of the soil reducing its growing capability and leaving the area nothing but bare soil for a few years.

The recent flooding of 2003 occurred at the same time the landslides occurred. Sumatra suffers annual flooding but 2003 was a particularly bad year. Again, the social impacts were the greatest with almost 200 killed and 1000 homes destroyed. Along with the death and families being separated, another of the social impacts was the destruction of schools and other community buildings. Without schools, the children of Sumatra rub the risk of growing up without an education and being stuck in a poverty cycle. The economic impacts were also similar to the landslide of the same year; this included the blocking of roads through floodwater.

Also telephone lines were cut. As well as a social impact, the lack of a communication network with many business’ which rely on automated Internet trade with Indonesia. This too led to loss of revenue along with the lost revenue of rubber plantation exports being delayed. The environmental impacts of the flooding was severe. The rising floodwaters meant that oils storage depots and the rubber works were submerged meaning that some harmful chemicals were released into the water supply. Along with the environmental damage to fish and other marine wildlife. There is the risk that people living in temporary accommodation have either drunk this water or washed food with it which could lead to health problems in the future that the Sumatra Government is ill equipped to deal with due to its LEDC stature.


The case study of Sumatra has seen how a multiple hazard region can be affected socially, economically and environmentally by hazards. As with most LEDCs, when a hazard hits its impacts are much larger than if the same hazard occurred in an MEDC. This is due to MEDC having advanced prediction, such is the case in Japan which is another multiple hazard region. Japan has a history of Earthquakes and cyclones similar to Sumatra. While earthquakes are still difficult to predict, Japan has built buildings to withstand the most destructive quakes (in a recent earthquake of a similar magnitude to the one that struck Sumatra there were no deaths attributed directly to the earthquake and only 200 minor injuries).

When the earthquake struck in Sumatra, the building collapsed easily leaving many people dead. The idea that LEDCs suffer greater impacts than MEDCs due to their less developed economy can again be examined by comparing the 2003 cyclone that caused flooding and landslides with the annual cyclones that hit Japan. In Japan, prediction is able to track the path of cyclones so that it is known where they will strike and therefore which regions to prepare. In Sumatra though, the cyclone was not tracked and even if it had been, it is doubtful whether the Islands infrastructure would have been able to warn the affected population. Sumatra’s LEDC status makes social impacts worse than MEDCs, but economic impacts are also hard felt. Wherever a natural event strikes an area its economy is badly effected. Although in MEDCs a large mount of damage may be done (over $20 billion damage caused by hurricane Andrew) but an MEDCs can quickly restore the economy back to as it was due to government being allocated money by central government for help with the disaster. In Sumatra the economic impacts of hazards are much worse.

The central government has no money to help rejuvenate an area after a disaster, so a promising new industry such as tourism’s development can b pushed back almost a decade meaning the whole of the Sumatra economy will be in decline for many years after the event. The pressure on the Sumatra economy means that ministers often turn a ‘blind eye’ to illegal activities such as logging because these activities bring in external revenue and employment. Although this activity was known to increase the risk of landslides, the government hoped that somehow a landslide would be averted and there would be a cash injection into the economy. Neither happened and the result was that many people are now trapped in the poverty cycle.

The environmental impacts of a natural disaster are also worse in an LEDC. This is because what little money that is present to restore the area back to what it was prior to the disaster is allocated to the human population with little regard for the animal population affected by the event which was in this case the 2-horn Rhino.

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