The world faced 7348 disaster events between 2000-2019 which is 75 per cent more than that of the disaster events recorded between 1980 and 1999, says a report by the UNDRR, the UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction. The report titled ‘Human Cost of the Disasters’, released on October 13, 2020 says that the disasters recorded between 2000-2019 claimed 1.23 million lives and caused 2.97 trillion USD economic losses to the global economy.
Compared with the 3,656 climate related disasters between 1980 and 1999, the previous 20 years recorded 6,681 climate related disasters which affected 3.9 billion people and caused 510,837 deaths, which is a significant increase. ‘This is clear evidence that in a world where the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1˚C above the preindustrial period, the impacts are being felt in the increased frequency of extreme weather events including heat waves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires,’ the report cautions.
Extreme events such as floods, storms, heatwaves droughts and wildfires accounted for almost 91 per cent of all the natural disasters recorded in the last 20 years. However, despite increases in the disasters in the comparing period, the numbers of deaths have not increased significantly. The 2000-2019 period recorded 1.23 million disasters deaths which is slightly higher than that of 1980-1999 (1.19 million). The report attributes this in the improvements made in early warnings, disaster preparedness and responses.
At the regional level, with 2,068 disaster events in the last 20 years, Asian countries suffered the highest number of disasters events, followed by the 1,756 events in the Americas and 1,192 events in Africa. Population size and landscape were the major factors behind the largest number of natural disasters recorded in Asia.
China and the USA reported 577 and 467 disasters consequently. With a total 321 disasters reported in the last 20 years, India was at the third place. The report says that India and China together account for 2.8 billion disaster affected people between 2000 and 2019 which is 70 per cent of the globally affected people. In India alone, 1,083 million people were affected by the disasters.
As far as disaster type is concerned, floods were the most common type of disaster as it accounted for 44 per cent of all events, followed by storms (28 per cent) and earthquakes (9 per cent).
In the economic context, total loss due to the natural disasters between 2000 to 2019 were 2.97 trillion USD, out of which 47 per cent or 1.39 trillion USD were from storms, 22 per cent from flood and 21 per cent from earthquake.
The report defines mega disaster as an event that kills more than 100,000 people. The period 1999-2019 recorded three mega disasters. These are; the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that killed 226, 408 people, 2010 Haiti Earthquake that killed 222,570 and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar that killed 138, 366 humans.
What is Disaster?
The UNDRR report is based on the data recorded in the EM-DAT, which are CRED’s emergency data events. Founded in 1973 at the School of Public Health of UCLouvain, Belgium, the CRED or the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters is one of the leading agencies for the study of public health during mass emergencies. In order to be recorded as a disaster, an event must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Ten or more people reported killed;
- 100 or more people reported affected;
- Declaration of a state of emergency; and,
- Call for international assistance.
Although it is impossible to prevent natural disasters, it is however possible to prevent the losses it causes to human lives and infrastructures and properties. In the long term, concerted effort to avert further global warming can perhaps reduce the frequency of extreme weather events and slow the subsequent climate change. However, such actions require greater national and global commitment.
UNDRR/CRED (2020). The human cost of disasters: an overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019). Accessible at : https://www.undrr.org/publication/human-cost-disasters-overview-last-20-years-2000-2019