Does rising income increase or decrease damage risk from natural disasters?
Recent empirical literature has found a negative relationship between income per capita and measures of risk from natural disaster, supportive of logic that higher incomes allow countries to mitigate disaster risk. We argue that behavioral changes at the micro level in response to increasing income (such as location choice and extent of costly abatement activity) may lead to a non-linear relationship between aggregate incomes and disaster damages, where the risks increase with income before they decrease. In a country-year panel data set, we show that disaster risk associated with flooding, landslides and windstorms increases with income up to GDP per capita levels of $5044, $3360, and $4688 per year respectively and decrease thereafter. Such non-linear impacts are absent for other disaster types such as extreme temperature events and earthquakes where the links between human behavioral choices and exposure to risk are not as strong. From a policy perspective, this suggests that for the least developed countries, the dual goals of disaster risk prevention and economic development cannot be assumed to be complementary for all forms of natural disaster. In addition to allocating resources to manage disaster risk, the poorest nations may have to be more proactive in enacting policies that alter the behavioral choices of citizens that impact a country's exposure to natural disaster risk.
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