Study: The Places on Earth You Could Survive a Deadly Global Pandemic
In the event of a global pandemic threatening mankind with extinction, Australia and New Zealand would be the best safe havens where humans could survive and eventually repopulate the planet, scientists have said.
“Discoveries in biotechnology could see a genetically-engineered pandemic threaten the survival of our species,” Nick Wilson, from the University of Otago, said in a statement. “Though carriers of disease can easily circumvent land borders, a closed self-sufficient island could harbour an isolated, technologically-adept population that could repopulate the earth following a disaster.”
Wilson and his colleague Matt Boyd developed a scoring system that looked at island nations and their potential as a safe haven if a global pandemic struck. They looked at how accessible each island was and what resources would be available to make it self sufficient.
Their findings, published in the journal Risk Analysis, show which of the world’s islands could serve as “potential refuges for ensuring long‐term human survival in the face of catastrophic pandemics (or other relevant existential threats)”.
The risk of a global pandemic is real. Earlier this month, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB)—an independent organization co-convened by the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group—warned that the world is not prepared for a large-scale disease outbreak.
“While disease has always been part of the human experience, a combination of global trends, including insecurity and extreme weather, has heightened the risk,” a report by the GPMB said. “Disease thrives in disorder and has taken advantage–outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades and the spectre of a global health emergency looms large. If it is true to say ‘what’s past is prologue’, then there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5 percent of the world’s economy.
“A global pandemic on that scale would be catastrophic, creating widespread havoc, instability and insecurity. The world is not prepared,” it added.
Pandemics in the past have killed tens of millions. In the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague is estimated to have killed over half of the population of Europe. Just a century ago, the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people killed an estimated 50 million. With global travel now a standard part of society—in 2017 over four billion people took a flight—researchers say a new disease could also spread across the planet easily. In 2007 researchers found that while travel restrictions could help slow an outbreak, it would not stop it.
So where to go when a global pandemic strikes? Boyd and Wilson looked at 20 island states with no land borders and with populations above 250,000. They used nine “resilience‐relevant domains” to assess its suitability as a refuge.
They found the best place was Australia because of its “vast oversupply of energy and food”. They explained: “With 482% of its energy requirement produced domestically, and nearly ten times the amount of food produced than what its population needs for survival, Australia anchors both these scales at the top end.”
Australia was closely followed by New Zealand and Iceland. All other nations fell “far behind” the top three in terms of survivability—including Japan and Malta.
The island nations best for surviving a global pandemic, from best to worst, are as follows:
Trinidad and Tobego
Boyd said humans—with modern technology—have the potential to inadvertently release a disease that could kill millions. “The worst-case scenario could see multiple genetically engineered pandemic organisms being released at once,” he said in a statement. “We need to be ready for these situations. Our study shows that certain island nations have the characteristics needed to preserve technological culture through a catastrophic event.”
“It’s like an insurance policy,” Wilson added. “You hope that you never need to use it, but if disaster strikes, then the strategy needs to have been in place ahead of time.”