Quantification of disaster impacts through household well-being losses


Natural disaster risk assessments typically consider environmental hazard and physical damage, neglecting to quantify how asset losses affect households’ well-being. However, for a given asset loss, a wealthy household might quickly recover, while a poor household might suffer major, long-lasting impacts. This research proposes a methodology to quantify disaster impacts more equitably by integrating the three pillars of sustainability: environmental (hazard and asset damage), economic (macro-economic changes in production and employment) and social (disaster recovery at the household level). The model innovates by assessing the impacts of disasters on people’s consumption, considering asset losses and changes in income, among other factors. We apply the model to a hypothetical earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, considering the differential impact of consumption loss on households of varying wealth. The analysis reveals that poorer households suffer 19% of the asset losses but 41% of the well-being losses. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the effectiveness of specific policies varies across cities (depending on their built environment and social and economic profiles) and income groups.

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Fig. 1: Schematic of the household postdisaster consumption model.
Fig. 2: The consequences of a potential earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area on the largest cities.
Fig. 3: Spatial distribution of average losses per capita.
Fig. 4: Existing and potential future risk-reduction strategies.
Fig. 5: Comparison of three risk-reduction strategies.
Fig. 6: Effect of risk-reduction strategies on the Bay Area’s ten largest cities (ordered by population).

Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Several input datasets that support the findings of this study are available from different platforms and sources (as described in Data sources section) and restrictions may apply to the availability of such data. Input data can be obtained from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission from the relevant data owners.

Code availability

All code used to conduct this analysis is freely available at https://github.com/mary-mark/well-being_model.


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Funding for this work was provided in part by the UPS Endowment Fund at Stanford University.

Author information




S.H. and B.W. conceived the well-being metric and the basic household model. M.M., S.H. and B.W. further developed the household model, including explicit representation of loss of labour income. M.M. and J.B. developed an integrated framework that includes regional seismic risk analysis and M.M. wrote the simulation scripts. S.H. provided further guidance on economic and well-being modelling. M.M. drafted the manuscript with contributions and editing from all the authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maryia Markhvida.

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Supplementary notes, Figs. 1–5, Tables 1 and 2 and ref. 1.

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Markhvida, M., Walsh, B., Hallegatte, S. et al. Quantification of disaster impacts through household well-being losses. Nat Sustain 3, 538–547 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0508-7

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