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Earthquake fatalities linked to corruption?

Is there any link between corruption and earthquake fatalities? A new study says there could be.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2011 17:20 IST

Is there any link between corruption and earthquake fatalities? A new study says there could be.

According to an assessment of global earthquake deaths over the past three decades, 83% of all deaths caused by building collapses during quakes occurred in countries considered to be unusually corrupt.

The study, conducted by professor Nicholas Ambraseys of the Imperial College of London and professor Roger Bilham of the University Colorado at Boulder, also found that in some wealthy countries, the collapse of buildings is attributable to corrupt building practices.

Corrupt building practices -- which are generally covert and hard to quantify -- included the use of substandard materials, poor assembly methods, the inappropriate placement of buildings and non-adherence to building codes, the authors noted in the journal Nature.

For their research, the authors used data gathered by world corruption watchdog Transparency International which annually generates a Corruption Perception Index, or CPI.

The CPI index -- which defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain -- is determined by an aggregate of 13 opinion polls averaged over two years from 10 institutions monitoring the frequency and extent of bribes paid within various countries, said Bilham.

The authors determined that there is roughly a one-to-one relationship between a nations' wealth and its perceived level of corruption.

"Less wealthy nations are the most corrupt," said Bilham. "We found that fully 83% of all deaths from earthquakes in the last 30 years have occurred in nations where corruption is both widespread and worse than expected."

Relative wealth is the most obvious parameter that influences a country's corruption, according to the authors who chose the per capita GDP to compare the relative wealth of the countries.

High wealth is strongly linked to countries with a stable government conducive to the rule of law, they said.

Citing examples how corruption linked to quake toll, the authors noted that while a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit New Zealand in 2010 resulted in zero fatalities, an identical quake in Haiti last year resulted in a death toll reaching six figures.

"Widespread anecdotal evidence points to the collapse of structures in devastating earthquakes as a result of corrupt building practices," said Bilham. "In this study we have attempted to quantify that perception.