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The World’s 5 Most Earthquake-Prone Countries

Countries in the Pacific Ring of Fire are at most risk.

Around 750,000 people died due to earthquakes between 1998-2017. On average, 20,000 casualties are reported every year, but millions are affected by devastating tremors. Although there have made been advances in understanding fault lines and early warning sign systems, we still can’t predict when an earthquake will occur. To prepare for the worst, cities are building earthquake-resistant structures and countries are investing in disaster management. Yet the economic, social, and psychological damages that people suffer after earthquakes can be severe. 

There are some countries that are more prone to earthquakes due to their location. Many of these have previously faced the wrath of the earth multiple times and had to rebuild from the ground up.

Related: 10 Major Cities That Were Completely Destroyed and Painstakingly Rebuilt

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With 1,500 earthquakes every year, Japan sits on one of the most active seismic regions with 10% of the world’s active volcanoes. The Asian country is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, the horseshoe-shaped region that stretches for 40,000 kilometres and where several tectonic plates collide.

The country has experienced devastation from earthquakes and tsunamis many times in the past (the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the Fukushima Earthquake in 2016 are just two examples). Japanese are trained for earthquakes since childhood, and the country has a robust disaster prevention system. With a dense network of 1,100 seismometers, the nation can detect an earthquake early and send alerts to its population through phones, televisions, and other means to give them a 5-10 second window.

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Indonesia is another country in the Pacific Ring of Fire—the most volcanically and seismically active region in the world. Around 90% of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region and Indonesia is frequently rocked by them.

The earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean countries in 2004 killed 170,000 people in the archipelago, but multiple earthquakes affect the islands every year. According to one news report, the island nation recorded 11,500 earthquakes in 2018, almost double the average of 6,000 in the past decade.

Related: You vs. the Volcano: A Guide to Summiting Mt. Rinjani

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Quake-prone Turkey has multiple fault lines, including the Eastern Anatolian Fault and the North Anatolian Fault. The country lies between major tectonic plates of Eurasia and Africa, and a minor Arabian plate. The majority of Turkey sits on the Anatolian plate, which is being squeezed westwards.

In 1999, more than 18,000 people were killed by a powerful quake that turned neighborhoods into rubble. The North Anatolian Fault Line (where Anatolian and Eurasian plates collide) triggered this earthquake and it’s still an active fault line. In 2021, 23,735 earthquakes were recorded, an average of three an hour. It is feared that an impending earthquake will destroy the capital of Istanbul, and the country is preparing for the event.

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Iran lies on major fault lines, too. The Zagros Mountains were formed when the Eurasia and the Arabian plate collided and the tectonic plates cause as many as one earthquake a day. The whole country is at risk from these earthquakes, as demonstrated by this data on instrumental earthquakes in 2021 collected by the Iranian Seismological Center. 

One of the worst earthquakes in Iran was recorded in 1990 when 50,000 people died, and the cities of Manjil and Rudbar suffered extensive damage due to a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. In 2003, the city of Bam was flattened and 34,000 were killed when a 6.6 magnitude earthquake shook Iran. Two years later in Zarand, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed 612 people. More recently in July this year, a series of earthquakes in southern Iran killed at least five people.

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Ecuador deals with high seismic activities. The Nazca Plate is pushing under the South American Plate, causing a phenomenon called subduction. In 2016, Ecuador was hit by an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude that killed nearly 600 people. Hundreds of aftershocks were felt after the first tremor, and it was the biggest tragedy the country had faced in seven decades. The cause was reported as subduction. No correlation was found between this event and the earthquake that happened in Japan the same day.

Apart from earthquakes and tsunamis, the South American country also has potential risks from active volcanoes as it is also in the deadly Ring of Fire.