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Natural disasters are likely to wreak more havoc in the future, due to overcrowding and poor emergency planning in vulnerable regions, yet relatively simple measures could save lives.

In this article in Nature, Quinrin Schiermeier outlines the risks posed by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and floods, and ways in which their impact can be reduced.

The pressures of population and development have put more people in harm's way, particularly in the coastal zones of China, Peru and Sumatra. As a result, our vulnerability to catastrophes such as the Indian Ocean tsunami has increased, and disasters on this scale are likely be more common.

Already, experts warn that if an earthquake hits Istanbul, Tehran or Sumatra's Padang, the death toll could reach one million. Yet, fatalities could be avoided if construction standards are improved.

Simple ways to save lives include teaching people how to notice warning signs from nature – such as shaking ground or a receding sea – planning escape routes, evacuations and better ways of using land in coastal regions.

Schiermeier also highlights the difficulty of translating the latest scientific knowledge into policy and disaster preparedness.

To address this, Britain's chief science adviser has suggested creating an International Science Panel for Natural Hazard Assessment that would function like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, creating an accessible summary of science's latest findings so that action can be taken faster.

Link to full article in Nature

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