Disasters & Climate Change – You do the math

From Reuters AlertNet:

New statistics out today show disasters killed 21,342 people worldwide in 2006, compared with 82,061 the year before. Economic losses caused by natural hazards also fell, to just $19 billion in 2006, compared with $210 billion the year before.

These heartening figures, released by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), are a reflection of what didn’t happen in 2006. No massive temblors like the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 that killed 73,338. And certainly nothing like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which left 230,000 dead or missing. Nor were there hurricanes to rival Katrina, Wilma or Rita that together racked up $166 billion in damages in the United States.

That’s the good news – and news that confirms a trend observed since 2000.

“The number of people killed by disasters has been decreasing, if we do not take into account the two mega events: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the earthquake in Pakistan,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir from CRED.

The bad news is that even as disasters are claiming fewer lives, the number of people affected by them remains staggeringly high at 134.5 million in 2006. That’s down a bit from 158 million in 2005 (again, a number inflated by the Kashmir quake) but far higher than in decades past.

So what you might say? So the magnitude of disasters come and go. But it is not just as simple as watching the weather forecasts. We need to connect the dots between natural disasters, global warming, poverty, and health & human rights.

Thankfully, the article made them for me!

That said, it’s still people in Africa and Asia who bear the brunt of disasters due to an intrinsic link between poverty and vulnerability to risk – a link that explains why an earthquake that hits Los Angeles, say, is likely to kill far fewer people than a quake of similar magnitude that hits Java or Bam.

That’s because poor countries often lack the resources to mitigate against hazards, whether by setting up early warning systems, protecting livelihoods or building risk-reduction strategies into their development plans. Again the figures bear this out.

Last year the United States was hit by more natural disasters than any country except China (26, compared with China’s 35). But if you rank countries by the number of people killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants, the U.S. hardly even figures.

By this count, Malawi tops the list with 34,331 per 100,000 people, followed by Burundi (26,778) and Kenya (11,935).

That these three nations are among the poorest countries in the world – and thus among the least able to take the impact of climate change in their stride – is surely no coincidence.

Courtesy of CRED (and from the same article), here’s a breakdown of the world’s 10 deadliest disasters in 2006, followed by a list of countries most hit by disasters and numbers killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants:

Disaster Country Toll
Earthquake (May) Indonesia 5,778
Typhoon Durian (Dec) Philippines 1,399
Landslide (Feb) Philippines 1,112
Heat wave (July) Netherlands 1,000
Heat wave (July) Belgium 940
Typhoon Bilis (July) China 820
Tsunami (July) Indonesia 802
Cold wave (Jan) Ukraine 801
Flash flood (Aug) Ethiopia 498
Typhoon Samoai (Aug) China 373

Natural disasters per country – 2006

China 35
United States 26
Indonesia, Philippines 20
India 17
Afghanistan 13
Vietnam 10
Australia, Burundi, Pakistan 8
Ethiopia, Mexico, Romania 7
Germany 6

Victims (killed or affected) of natural disasters per 100,000 people – 2006

Malawi 34,331
Burundi 26,778
Kenya 11,935
Philippines 9,097
Afghanistan 7,194
China 6,753
Somalia 5,490
Thailand 5,040
Guyana 4,562
Vietnam 3,969

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