The diverting survival handbook The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook offers useful pointers on how to deal with runaway camels, UFO abductions, high-rise hotel fires and leeches — human and animal. There’s only so much use one can get, though, out of learning the phrase May I borrow a towel to wipe up the blood? in German (“Darf ich ein Tuch borgen, um das blut abzuwischen?)”) or this useful bit of advice for travelling to dangerous regions: “Check beforehand.” (No kidding.)
While your chances of being snatched by a UFO might not seem as likely as some other scenarios outlined in a section headed “People Skills” — not as likely as, say, “How to survive a riot,” “how to pass a bribe” or “how to foil a scam artist,” there are useful pointers nonetheless on how to find your way in unfamiliar territory in a section called “Getting Around,” which includes bonus advice on “how to jump from rooftop to rooftop,” “How to ram a barricade” (too many viewings of The Year of Living Dangerously, no doubt) and “How to escape from the trunk of a car.” You never know when that last one may come in handy, whether you took a wrong turn into Vila Cruzeiro in Rio de Janeiro or decided to windowshop at the corner of W. Mulberry and N. Fremont in Baltimore, Maryland.
Nature and the natural world poses its own risks, as a more sober — and grounded — article recently noted on BBC World News’ main website. The piece, headed “The places on Earth where nature is most likely to kill you,” doubled a kind of anti-Planet Earth. Sure, the world is full of natural hazards, writer Ella Davies noted, from volcanoes to floods and storms. But where is the risk to human life greatest?
Don’t laugh. This is every bit as topical and relevant as knowing what to do if you’re buzzed by a UFO while driving a lonely strecth of highway at night. And if you live the life of a nature photographer, it’s much more likely to, um, bite you in the ass.
The piece breaks the subject into four basic elements, a subliminal nod, perhaps, to the ‘70s R&B soul-funk band Earth, Wind & Fire: water, air, earth and fire, in that order.
So, while little more than 1,000 deaths were recorded at sea in the year 2012, according to the International Maritime Organziation, water on dry land is a much greater force to be reckoned with, whether from rising sea levels and storm surges (the Maldives, Kiribati) or spring flooding on inland rivers. The survey found that the most likely place forcasualties are the flood plains adjacent to China’s biggest rivers. The summer flood on China’s Yangtze River in 1931 is believed to have killed countless people — literally countless, as official records at the time were incomplete. It’s believed to have been in the millions, though, in large part because of heavy concentrations of inhabitants along the river banks and unseasonally heavy snows that year, followed by sudden thawing and catastrophic rainfall.
In terms of air — hurricanes, mostly — Haiti is considered to be one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet, in part because of its geographical location in the tropical Caribbean and in part because the island nation lacks the resources to properly prepare, even when given advance warning. The most intense storms are not necessarily the deadliest: Haiti is unusually vulnerable, too, because natural barriers like forests have been stripped of their natural cover and many settlements have either been built on floodplains or in coastline areas vulnerable to storm surge.
In terms of the Earth — namely, earthquakes and other kinds of land-locked seismic activity — Los Angeles gets a lot of attention for being at risk, in part because it’s the media capital of the world and in part because of its population density and the suspicion that “the Big One” hasn’t struck yet, a concern echoed in the coastal Pacific Northwest, along the I-5 Seattle-Vancouver corridor. What the two have in common is the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an active volcanic and tectonic belt that rings the entire Pacific Ocean.
As the BBC article notes, though, the real risk of loss-of-life lies in the less affluent parts of the Ring of Fire — not Japan, the U.S. Canada or New Zealand but rather the Philippines.
Some 81% of the world’s worst earthquakes strike along the Ring of Fire, according to the 2015 Natural Hazard Risks Atlas. Digging deeper, though, those same risk analysts found that eight of the world’s 10 cities most at risk to natural disaster are in the Philippines, in no small part because the Ring of Fire intersects and crosses over with the Pacific’s major cyclone belt. The Philippines is at risk to both earthquakes and hurricanes, in other words.
In terms of fire — namely, volcanoes — Indonesia ranks near the top, in terms of both incidents and loss of life. The World Organization of Volcano Observatories (WOVO.org) recently determined that, in all, more than 200,000 people have died as a direct result of volcanoes during the past 400 years. Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa killed some 70,000 people in 1815, leading to a “year without summer” throughout the northern hemisphere.
Interestingly, in terms of fire and air combined, climate scientists are now warning that heat waves — whether or notthey’re connected to climate change — pose the largest hazard, and possibly the greatest threat to humankind yet. Call it what you will, global warming or a global warning, the result is the same.