standard Short review of damages caused by disasters

An interesting infographic from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction shows the annual damages caused by large-scale natural disasters.  It provides context for people killed by disasters, a staggering 1.1 million, those affected, 2.7 billion, and the total cost in damage, 1.3 trillion USD.  This information from EM-DAT The International Disaster Database includes all disasters entered into its database (both natural and technological) are based on at least one of these criteria: 10 or more people reported killed, 100 or more people reported affected, declaration of a state of emergency or call for international assistance.

The past 12 years have also been some of the worst in terms of the number of natural disasters reported.

Disasters appear to be increasing although the number of lives lost has decreased compared to previous years (compare the early 1930s with 2010).  But while this may show that disaster risk mitigation efforts are working, the number of people killed by hazards cannot be ignored.  While natural disasters appear to be increasing overall some individual events such as mega-earthquakes do not have an increased probability of occurring.

Other hazards expected to increase due to climate change, such as floods, especially threaten developing countries, but the UK (see Flooding is the United Kingdom’s biggest climate threat from Nature) and many other developed nations could see an increased risk of flooding that could lead to future disasters.

This is a risk map from the BIOPICCC project showing the projected increase in flooding in the UK ( red indicate highest risk of future flood events).

While ‘natural’ hazards are clearly problematic there is also the question of technological hazards.  Disasters such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill (look here for recent news on possible mutations to sea life caused by the oil and/or cleanup) and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown (which could have been prevented if not prepared for in advance (see Addressing the risks of nuclear power: a lesson from Fukushima).

Technological disasters have also increased, especially since the 1980s, but have dropped recently in comparison to recent years.

Along with the numbers of people killed by them…

While some of these figures are daunting it is important to keep in mind that while all disasters are certainly not preventable they can be mitigated to some degree.  Retrofitting buildings in preparation for earthquakes and floods (see Your home in a changing climate) is one way, mitigating CO2 emissions (although they are still on the rise despite the recent economic downturn) is another, not to mention adaptation to extreme weather events.


  1. Without being too much like Eyore, the depressive donkey, I must remind bloggers that these EM-DAT numbers, while the best we have in common, international use, are full of gaps and problems. ‘Affected’ is reported in wildly different ways, for example. It has virtually no meaning. Dead and ‘missing’ are often conflated, but this is a well-known problem with disaster mortality statistics.

    Naturally triggered disasters are under reported, something that La RED’s data base, DESINVENTAR, has demonstrated many times ( The same is probably true of technological disasters, where political interests inside and outside of governments may try to minimise publicity.

    Then there is the issue of capacity. The flood map presented for UK is detailed and useful because local and national authorities have the resources and skill and motivation to do a proper job. This is not so in many countries, where local government, in particular, is often starved of resources by centralist national authorities, who ‘talk’ a good ‘decentralisation’ and ‘capacity building’ game, but fall sort on implementation. This is not just my own opinion but the finding of two very large local level surveys conducted by the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction in 2009 and 2011. See

    Warm regards,


    Dr. Ben Wisner

    1. This is really useful Ben. I agree, ‘affected’ is ambiguous. It seems what we should be doing is reporting the context of who is affected and how, but it’s sometimes difficult conveying to people how bad some of these disasters really are. Disaster organisations and/or networks seem capable of doing this, but sometimes fail to communicate what is beyond the statistics. And I’m reminded that while the numbers are useful, they alone do not help the situation and in some cases go ignored, which has been shown by psychologist Paul Slovic and others. Will definitely be sure to follow DESINVENTAR’s work closely and RADIX looks most interesting.


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