Earthquakes’ Impacts on Society


Earthquakes are natural disasters that frequently result in other accidents such as landslides, fires, floods, and panic reactions among the population. Every year about 250-300 cases of damaging earthquakes are reported globally (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). Despite the strategies suggested by emergency management services and the advancements of contemporary science that allow predicting earthquakes and thus make some preparations to mitigate the adverse effects, this natural disaster usually has various negative impacts. Although the consequences of earthquakes are generally complex, it is possible to single out such major categories of impacts as social, economic, and environmental. Moreover, short-term and long-term effects can be differentiated within these categories. This paper provides an analysis of the earthquake impacts and their interrelation.

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Social impacts are among the most severe ones when it goes to earthquakes. The first immediate impacts of an earthquake are injuries and deaths of people. Thus, more than eight million deaths have been identified to result from earthquakes since the records are kept (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). During the period from 1900 to 2012, there were 144 earthquakes all over the world which took the lives of more than 1,000 people (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). However, these are approximate estimations due to the possibility of errors both during the census and in the process of victims’ counting. If compared to the total world population, the ratio of fatal outcomes during earthquakes has reduced. One of the possible reasons for this advancement is the use of advanced engineering practices all over the world. Further reduction of earthquake-related deaths is possible in case of use of high levels of seismic zonation by governments of the countries under an increased seismic risk as well as control and education of individuals who try to build non-engineered constructions (Wyss & Shroder, 2014).

Another social impact is related to the fact that many homes are destroyed by earthquakes. Therefore, people lose their property and become homeless. Since 1900, earthquakes have made more than 65 million people homeless (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). This figure is increasing due to the general growth of population all over the world and its density. Thus, the earthquakes occurring in the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century resulted in the highest amount of homeless people. One more social problem caused by an earthquake is the availability of vital resources in general and clean water supply in particular. Water pipes can be ruined as a result of an earthquake, which can lead to water contamination thus making it inapplicable.

Apart from the immediate or short-term impacts, there are long-term ones. Thus, the lack of freshwater due to its contamination, damage of infrastructure and services including healthcare, the necessity to live in crowded refugee camps, and other related factors can result in the spread of communicable diseases. One of the long-term social impacts of an earthquake is its influence on people’s behavior. An example of such a negative effect is described in the study by Breetzke, King, and Fabris-Rotelli (2016). The researchers provide evidence that the Canterbury Earthquakes that hit the Canterbury region (South Island, New Zealand) in September 2010 and February 2011, had damaged the major city, Christchurch, which had an impact on its social issues including crime. Thus, the investigation was focused on the analysis of earthquakes impacts on “the temporal and spatial patterning of four types of crime in Christchurch: assault, domestic violence, burglary and arson” (Breetzke, King, & Fabris-Rotelli, 2016, p. 135). The research revealed that three crime patterns decrease in the post-quake city except for domestic violence. The researchers explain this fact by the necessity to rebuild and recover the city. Nevertheless, the example of Christchurch is not a common pattern because disasters such as earthquakes frequently lead to such problems as looting.

One more social impact to consider is the one related to education. Thus, the research by Di Pietro (2017) revealed the facts that prove a negative effect of an earthquake on the academic performance of students. A natural disaster such as an earthquake (on the example of the L’Aquila earthquake) reduces the probability of students’ successful graduation and increases the incidence of being dropped out. It is explained by the mass destruction of educational facilities and the long time necessary for their restoration. These factors result in disruptions in the learning environment, which makes the negative effect stringer (Di Pietro, 2017). Finally, mental traumas of children as a consequence of an earthquake should be considered because they also negatively affect educational performance.

Economic Impacts of Earthquakes

Earthquakes frequently do not only ruin the buildings in the area but also destroy the related infrastructure. While there is a chance of people’s rescue in case an earthquake was forecasted, constructions cannot be protected. Thus, mass destructions in locations of the earthquakes cannot be effectively prevented. However, the primary effects of an earthquake can be not as dangerous as the secondary ones, which are a tsunami, fire, landslides, liquefaction, and fault rupture” (Wyss & Shroder, 2014, p. 203). Thus, the short-term economic impacts include the destruction of industries, businesses, and the necessary infrastructure. Moreover, such issues as looting can sometimes be observed. In addition, the destruction of roads and railways, as well as other items related to transportation, negatively influence the economy because they make business relations more complicated. Long-term economic impacts comprise the necessity to rebuild the ruined locations, which is both times- and cost-consuming (Guha-Sapir, Santos, & Borde, 2013). Moreover, the vital character of reconstruction need demands the focus of investment on the damaged area. Therefore, the expenses on economic development reduce, which leads to income losses.

The earthquakes that happened during the recent decade had significant economic consequences for the countries that experienced these disasters. The concept of the HNDECI was developed to allow comparing the losses of the present to those of the past (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). Its method combines “wages, construction costs, CPI, GDP, worker’s production” and some other indices to evaluate the losses from earthquakes (Wyss & Shroder, 2014, p. 221). The research proves that the most considerable losses are experienced by the developed countries, while small or developing countries are less influenced. Thus, the most significant losses were recorded in Great Canto (Japan, 1923), Kobe (Japan, 1995), Sichuan (China, 2008), and Tohoku (Japan, 2011). The major earthquakes in the period from 1900 to 2012 have caused more than $75 billion in losses (Wyss & Shroder, 2014). The general figure is much bigger and makes up over $3 trillion for the period of the last 113 years.

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The economic impacts of earthquakes provide many topics for research. Thus, DuPont and Noy (2015) discover the case of an earthquake at Kobe, the second-largest Japanese city, in 1995, and provide a reevaluation of its impact. Then research findings include a reduction of GDP of 12% per capita, which is proof of negative economic impact. In addition, more than 6,400 people died during this earthquake. The estimated value of the ruined infrastructure and physical capital was varying within the limits of $95–147 billion. The port, which was the major industry of the city, was severely damaged during the earthquake and almost all of its container berths were lost (Dupont & Noy, 2015). Other industries also were damaged including the large manufacturers and Kobe’s shopping districts.

Environmental Impacts of Earthquakes

Environmental impacts of earthquakes can be not as evident as social and not as cost-consuming as the economic ones. Still, they should be considered in the current analysis. Thus, immediate environmental impacts include the destruction of landscape, both built and natural. Also, there is a risk of explosions of gas pipes, which can cause fires as well as contaminate the area. Fires, in their turn, are dangerous for woods and their fauna. Landslides are also a frequent consequence of an earthquake in many regions. Finally, earthquakes in coastal areas can lead to tsunamis, which also destroy coastal flora and fauna and lead to floods. A more global or long-term environmental impact of an earthquake is the loss of significant landmarks, both natural and human. Moreover, such events as biodiversity are at risk as well.

One of the aspects related to the change in the environment after an earthquake is related to human health. Uchimura, Kizuki, Takano, Morita, and Seino (2014) investigate the influence of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake on the health of the community. The focus of the research was indirect mortality and the changes recorded in health care and long-term care after the mentioned earthquake. The research revealed an increase in indirect mortality in the month of the earthquake, among older adults in particular (Uchimura et al., 2014). At the same time, a decrease in health and long-term care insurance was observed in the month of the earthquake. This indicator returned to its usual meaning in the period up to five months after the earthquake. The indirect impact of the earthquake was also important. Thus, the risk of indirect mortality was higher in the households that suffered from the flood after a tsunami. Therefore, it can be concluded that both the earthquake and the related disasters cause an increase in indirect mortality, and a certain period of time is needed to minimize this effect.

Interrelation of Earthquake Consequences

All of the mentioned earthquake impacts are closely related and influence each other. It is particularly true about the social and economic impacts of earthquakes, which are frequently mentioned as socio-economic ones. Thus, it is evident that such social impacts as people’s deaths and injuries negatively influence the economy of the area. First of all, the treatment costs, as well as insurance expenses, increase. Secondly, the reduction in the amount of working population negatively influences the economy in the situation where much workforce is needed to restore the locations after earthquake destruction. Also, such economic impact of earthquakes as a decrease in GDP per capita reduces the general quality of life, which is a social factor. A decrease in income and the related quality of life in combination with the environmental impact of pollution as a result of an earthquake can cause an increased risk of diseases among the population. Moreover, the necessity to live in refugee camps during the rebuilding of settlements is also a negative social factor. Furthermore, such environmental impacts as landscape destruction can have economic consequences. Thus, it is hazardous for agriculture because the fields can be ruined. Moreover, environmental impacts are threatening some industries because the necessary resources can be destroyed in fires or by floods that develop after an earthquake. On the whole, the impacts of earthquakes are a complex issue because its aspects are related and intensify each other.


On the whole, earthquakes are one of the key focuses of emergency management. Despite technological progress and opportunities for predicting earthquakes, the impacts of every specific earthquake cannot be predicted in detail and prevented. Therefore, these natural disasters cause mass destruction of buildings, constructions, and natural resources as well as victims among the population. Moreover, they have some impacts that are closely interrelated. These impacts comprise social, economic, and environmental aspects. Therefore, earthquakes affect the location and the people living there. Certainly, the level of destruction depends on the power of an earthquake, the place where it develops, and the distance from the epicenter. Nevertheless, in the case of a strong stroke, the consequences are severe. They comprise the destruction of houses, social and business infrastructure, natural landscape, and other aspects necessary for people’s life. Still, while short-term impacts are evident and can be mitigated, the long-term impacts can influence the development of the affected area for many years.


Breetzke, G., King, M., & Fabris-Rotelli, I. (2016). The impact of the Canterbury Earthquakes on the temporal and spatial patterning of crime in Christchurch, New Zealand. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 51(1), 135-156. Web.

Di Pietro, G. (2017). The academic impact of natural disasters: evidence from L’Aquila earthquake. Education Economics, 26(1), 62-77. Web.

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duPont, C., & Noy, I. (2015). What happened to Kobe? A reassessment of the impact of the 1995 earthquake in Japan. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 63(4), 777-812.

Guha-Sapir, D., Santos, I., & Borde, A. (Eds.). (2013). The economic impacts of natural disasters. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Uchimura, M., Kizuki, M., Takano, T., Morita, A., & Seino, K. (2014). Impact of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake on community health: Ecological time series on transient increase in indirect mortality and recovery of health and long-term-care system. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (1979-),68(9), 874-882. Web.

Wyss, M., & Shroder, J. (2014). Earthquake hazard, risk, and disasters. Waltham, MA: Elsevier/Academic Press.

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