Departmental Papers (School of Law)

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version

January 2006


The world, over the course even of its relatively recent history, has known many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and pandemics. The 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic killed more than 20 million people (some estimates run as high as 50 million). The current AIDS pandemic has already killed more than 20 million people (most in sub-Saharan Africa), and there are serious concerns that a new avian flu pandemic could kill hundreds of millions of people around the world. The recent earthquake in Pakistan is estimated to have killed over 70,000 people. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 killed 300,000 people (Winchester 2003; Winchester 2005; Barry 1997). Richard Posner, in his recent provocative book, Catastrophe (2004), worries about much more remote but more devastating natural disasters such as asteroid collisions with the earth or extreme forms of global warming followed by an ice age.


All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of scholarly citation, none of this work may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. For information address the University of Pennsylvania Press, 3905 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112. Reprinted from On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, edited by Ronald J. Daniels, Donald F. Kettl, and Howard Kunreuther (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, pages 89-107.



Date Posted: 21 August 2008