Anticiper les catastrophes

Un an après le tsunami de l'Océan indien, qu'avons-nous appris ? Principalement que c'était le type de catastrophe auquel les dirigeants n'accordent pas assez d'attention, possédant une probabilité d'existence très basse ou inconnue, mais susceptible de provoquer des pertes énormes. Certes le nombre de morts, les souffrances émotionnelles et physiques des rescapés et les dégâts matériels ont été considérables, mais de plus grandes pertes encore pourraient être infligées par des catastrophes à faible (mais pas négligeable) probabilité, voire à la probabilité inconnue.

Par exemple, l'astéroïde qui a explosé au-dessus de la Sibérie en 1908 avec la force d'une bombe à hydrogène aurait pu tuer des millions de personnes s'il avait explosé au-dessus d'une grande ville. Pourtant, cet astéroïde ne mesurait que 60 mètres de diamètre. Un astéroïde bien plus gros (parmi les milliers d'astéroïdes dangereusement grands dont l'orbite croise celui de la Terre) pourrait frapper la planète et provoquer l'extinction totale du genre humain par l'association d'ondes de choc, d'incendies, de tsunamis et de blocage de la lumière du soleil, quel que soit l'endroit de l'impact.

D'autres risques de catastrophes comprennent des épidémies naturelles (la grippe espagnole de 1918-1919 a tué entre 20 et 40 millions de personnes), des attaques terroristes nucléaires et biologiques, certains types d'accidents de laboratoire et un réchauffement soudain de la planète. La probabilité de catastrophes, intentionnelles ou pas, résultant de l'activité humaine semble augmenter suite à la rapidité et la direction que prennent les progrès technologiques.

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