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Disasters: the facts

Almost half the world’s population has lived through a disaster at some point in the past decade. It’s enough to make you fear the future.

Storms, floods, famine, cyclones, drought, typhoons, earthquakes, mudslides, avalanches.  Each year for the past decade, an average of 258 million people have lived through some kind of disaster – in total, this is the equivalent of almost half of the world’s population.

According to the Red Cross, an average of 354 natural disasters occurred throughout the world each year from 1991 to 1999. Between 2000 and 2004, this figure more than doubled to an average of 728 natural disasters per year.

And each year, the death toll from disasters is growing greater – from 84,570 in 1995 to 249,896 ten years later, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The tide is rising

Climate change is propelling the incidence and intensity of natural disasters.

The number of geophysical disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions – has remained steady. However, the number of climate-related disasters – including droughts, windstorms and floods – is increasingly steadily. Floods, hurricanes and droughts have increased dramatically over the last 20 years. From 1987 to 1998, the average number of climate-related disasters was 195. From 2000 to 2006, the average was 365, representing an increase of 87 per cent.

Today, more than 70 per cent of disasters are related to our changing weather.
 

Who’s hit hardest?

Over the last 15 years, about three times as many disasters happened in developing countries as in developed countries. But:

  • The number of people killed by disasters in developing countries was more than 10 times higher than those killed in developed countries

  • More than 50 times as many people were killed by floods in poor countries as in rich countries

  • More than 50 times as many people were affected by disasters in developing countries as in developed countries.

The cost of disasters

  • Letting it all happen isn’t the cheap option. As television news showed us, disasters cost lives and money

  • In 2005, disasters caused more than $150 billion worth of damage

  • The World Bank estimates it will cost $7.2 billion to make good the damage done to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India after the Indian Ocean tsunami

  • The UN estimates that rebuilding after the Kashmir earthquake will cost $5 billion

  • In Mozambique, one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world, it cost more than $600 million to reconstruct destroyed public infrastructure after the devastating floods of 2000.

Backward steps

While the cost of providing emergency relief and reconstruction after disasters is huge, the damage they do to development is often immeasurable.

Hurricane Mitch in 1998 set back the development of Central America’s worst affected countries by as much as  50 years.

In economic terms, disasters reduce the output of the poorest nations by around three per cent, depriving them of resources they need to help people escape poverty, according to the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department.

That’s why preventing the worst effects of disaster before they happen is such a top priority for us.

It’s cost effective, it’s practical, and it works

Do people have to die when a disaster hits? We don’t think so.

  • In Pakistan, 500 children in one school alone were crushed to death when the building collapsed on them. £500 could have paid to make the school earthquake resistant – just £1 per child

  • While Japan warns its citizens of possible tsunamis within 30 seconds of a major earthquake, there was no warning system for the Indian Ocean. Yet just £20 would pay for a wind-up radio to help warn a village of cyclones, floods or tsunamis

  • Without a comprehensive disaster risk-reduction strategy, the World Bank predicts that the costs of helping people after a disaster will rise to $6-10 trillion over the next ten years – up to 230 times more than it spent in post-disaster reconstruction in just over two decades to 2003.

In UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s words: 'The need to engage fully in disaster risk reduction has never been more pressing. Disaster risk reduction is about stronger building codes, sound land use planning, better early warning systems, environmental management and evacuation plans and, above all, education. It is about making communities and individuals aware of their risk to natural hazards and how they can reduce their vulnerability.'

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