COVID-19 killed more people in 16 months than natural disasters in 20 years

No disaster has killed more than 3 million people in recent history and in such a short time period

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Sunday 18 April 2021
Photo: Wikipedia__

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has taken more lives in a relatively short span of time than natural and health disasters have done over years.

The number of COVID-19 dead crossed the three-million-mark April 17, 2021 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It reached this figure over a period of one year and four months.

While the pandemic has spread to 219 countries, the seven with the most deaths account for nearly half the global total (3,014,240): the United States (579,942), Brazil (369,024), Mexico (211,693), India (175673), UK (127,225), Italy (116,366) and France (100,404).

The global number of deaths being reported weekly to the WHO had spiked in January 2021 and decreased thereafter. But the deaths have been on the rise from March 10 onwards.  


Compare COVID-19 fatalities to fatality figures from natural and health disasters globally as well as in India and the numbers are much smaller.

For instance, 0.94 million people died during the world’s 10 deadliest natural disasters between 2000 and 2019 according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNODRR).

These included three mega disasters — the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The mortality numbers could be understood by considering how COVID-19 claimed human lives vis-à-vis other recent health crisis around the world.

While the Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome claimed 2.4 million lives in three years — 2017, 2018 and 2019 — COVID-19 claimed three million lives in less than 1 year and 4 months.

Tuberculosis claimed close to nearly 2.9 million lives in two years

In India, over 0.175 million have died due to COVID-19 as of April 17, 2021.

The human toll of the pandemic in India too is more than double the number of humans killed in over 320 natural disasters during the recent two decades (2000-2019).

Some 79,732 people had died due to 321 incidences of natural disasters in India during 2000-2019, according to a report by UNODRR released in 2020.

Third-leading cause

COVID-19 is now the third-leading cause of death globally after ischemic heart disease and stroke according to the recent estimates of Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Ranking of COVID-19 among the leading causes of mortality assuming uniform deaths of non-COVID causes throughout the year; April 15, 2021

Source: IHME, April 15, 2021

IHME is an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, US.

In India, after a decline in the number of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in India from September 2020 to mid-February 2021, there has been a reversal of this trend.

Even as rising cases of infections were worrying, the recent increase in the number of deaths is even more worrying.

With 1,338 deaths as of April 16, 2021, the pandemic is turning out to be deadlier.

There has been nearly 60 per cent increase in new deaths due to COVID-19 in just a week (April 10-16, 2021).

Date Daily new deaths % increase daily
60% increase in daily new deaths in a week
Apr-10 838 8.41
Apr-11 904 7.88
Apr-12 880 -2.65
Apr-13 1026 16.59
Apr-14 1037 1.07
Apr-15 1183 14.08
Apr-16 1338 13.10

In end of March 2021, when the daily deaths were 530 per day on an average, COVID was the number 15 cause of death in India.

A closer look at the daily new deaths between April 10-17, 2021 shows that over 1,000 people are dying on an average every day.  

This is an increase over the week April 3-10, 2021, when 618 people died every day on an average.

If one considers the estimates of IHME for India as on March 31, 2021, COVID-19 may be on the way to becoming the eighth leading cause of death, surpassing diabetes.

Considering the trends of the last four days, it is very close to being the seventh cause of death by replacing TB.

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