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Statistics: Sharp increase in natural disasters over the past 20 years


A new United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) report confirms how extreme weather events have come to dominate the disaster landscape at the beginning of 21st century. Floods and storms were the most prevalent disaster events, followed by earthquakes, extreme temperatures, landslides, droughts, wildfires, volcanic activity and dry mass movement.

UNDRR used statistics from the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) which records disasters which have killed ten or more people, affected 100 or more people, resulted in a declared state of emergency, or a call for international assistance.

There were 7 348 major natural disaster events from 2000 to 2019, with 1.23 million lives lost and 4.2 billion people affected, resulting in approximately US$2.97 trillion in global economic losses. 

This is a sharp increase over the previous 20-year period (1980 – 1999) when EM-DAT recorded 4 212 natural disasters worldwide, 1.19 million lives lost, 3.25 billion people affected, and approximately US$1.63 trillion in economic losses.

On average, there were 367 disaster events each year from 2000 to 2019, the majority of which were floods and storms (44% and 28%, respectively).

According to the report, much of the difference is explained by a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events: from 3 656 climate-related events (1980 – 1999) to 6 681 climate-related disasters in the period 2000 – 2019.

Floods and storms were the most prevalent disaster events.

The last twenty years have seen the number of major floods more than double, from 1 389 to 3 254, while the incidence of storms grew from 1 457 to 2 034. 

There has also been a rise in geo-physical events including earthquakes and tsunamis which have killed more people than any of the other natural hazards under review in the report.

While improvements have been made in terms of early warnings, disaster preparedness and response, which have led to a reduction in loss of life in single-hazard scenarios, it is also clear that the increasingly systemic nature of disaster risk, i.e. the overlap of events and the interplay between risk drivers such as poverty, climate change, air pollution, population growth in hazard-exposed areas, uncontrolled urbanization and the loss of bio-diversity, requires greater strengthening of disaster risk governance, the report states.

Asia suffered the highest number of disaster events.

In total, there were 3 068 disaster events in Asia, followed by 1 756 events in the Americas and 1 192 events in Africa.

The high frequency and impact of disasters in Asia is largely due to the size of the continent and landscapes that represent a high risk of natural hazards, such as river basins, flood plains, and seismic fault lines. Additionally, there are high population densities in many disaster-prone areas of the continent.

China reported 577 events, the United States of America 467, India 321 events, Philippines 304, and Indonesia 278 events. These countries all have large and heterogenous landmasses and relatively high population densities in at-risk areas. 

Three mega-disasters occurred in the period: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Other mass casualty events include the 2003 heatwaves in Europe which killed 72 200 across 15 European countries, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan which killed 73 300 people, and the 2008 earthquake in China which killed 87 500 people. 

Ten deadliest disasters from 2000 to 2019

Earthquake and tsunami Indian Ocean 2004 226 408
Earthquake Haiti 2010 222 570
Storm Myanmar 2008 138 366
Earthquake China 2008 87 476
Earthquake Pakistan 2005 73 338
Heatwave Europe 2003 72 210
Heatwave Russia 2010 55 736
Earthquake Iran 2003 26 716
Earthquake India 2001 20 005
Drought Somalia 2010 20 000

Source: EM-DAT

Floods have accounted for 44% of all disaster events from 2000 to 2019, affecting 1.6 billion people worldwide, the highest figure for any disaster type. This is the most common type of event with an average of 163 per year.

The most affected country by flooding in the past two decades was China, which experienced an average of 20 floods per year.

Over the two decades, floods in China affected a total of 900 million people, accounting for approximately 55% of people affected by flooding worldwide.

India is the 2nd most affected country by floods, with an average of 17 flood events per year and a total of approximately 345 million people affected.

The deadliest flooding events from 2000 to 2019 were the June 2013 floods in India (6 054 deaths), May 2004 floods in Haiti (2 665 deaths), and the July 2010 floods in Pakistan (1 985 deaths).

Floods have the highest impacts in Asia, as the continent experienced 41% of all flooding events and with a total of 1.5 billion people affected, accounted for 93% of people affected by floods worldwide.

Africa (763 flood events) and the Americas (680 flood events) experience significant flooding impacts as well. Many of these impacts are preventable since flooding, unlike most types of disasters, has affordable mechanisms of primary prevention, such as dams, dykes and drainage systems. 

Storms, including hurricanes, cyclones and storm surges, killed nearly 200 000 people between 2000 and 2019, making storms the 2nd deadliest type of disaster worldwide, and the deadliest type of weather-related disaster in the past 20 years. The 2 043 storms recorded by EM-DAT during this period also make these events the second most frequent disaster type after flooding.

The third deadliest type of disaster is earthquake with 8% of all occurrences (552 occurrences), followed by extreme temperatures (6% / 432 occurrences), landslides (5% / 376), droughts (5% / 338), wildfires (3% / 238), volcanic activity (1% / 102) and dry mass movements (<1%, 13).

Full report:

The human cost of disasters: an overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019)

Featured image credit: UNDRR


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  1. Matthew 24 As we get closer to the end of the age the earth will groan because it has been corrupted by sin from the beginning. Jesus says its only the beginning of sorrows.
    When the bride of Christ is raptured out of this world then the horror show will really begin.

  2. Observe the three-dimensional path of the magnetic poles and you have an answer as to why this happens. As long as you only take latitude and longitude into account and ignore the altitude profile, you are blind. Use Google Earth with the height profile option

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