Natural Disasters

8 million deaths, economic losses amounting to $7 trillion due to disasters since 1900

Floods accounted for 60 per cent of the economic losses and nearly half of the deaths

By Jigyasa Watwani
Last Updated: Tuesday 19 April 2016

Photo: Ravi

Natural disasters since 1900 have resulted in more than 8 million deaths and economic losses amounting to over $7 trillion, according to researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany.

Led by James Daniell, the researchers presented their findings at the ongoing 2016 European Geosciences Union Assembly at Vienna. The assembly began on April 17 and will conclude on April 22.

According to the findings of the study, floods accounted for 60 per cent of the economic losses due to natural disasters in the 115 years between 1900 and 2015. In the same time interval, earthquakes accounted for 26 per cent of the losses, storms accounted for 19 per cent of the losses and volcanoes accounted for nearly one per cent of the losses. However, in recent times, the scales have tipped in favor of storms: They attributed to nearly 30 per cent of the economic losses due to natural disasters since 1960.

Another trend worth noting is the variation in economic losses due to natural disasters over time. While absolute economic losses have increased, an evaluation of normalised losses suggests that many countries are protecting themselves better by building better. Normalised losses take into account the change in people’s wealth over time. To calculate normalised losses, event year dollars are converted to current year dollars using methods such as consumer price index (CPI), that is, the average change in prices paid by urban consumers over time, or construction cost index (CCI), that is, the average cost movement of a fixed basket of goods and services related to the construction industry over time. The improvements in flood protection were found to be most prominent and a significant reduction in normalised economic losses was observed for China and Japan.

Using these two methods, Daniell worked out the normalised economic losses to be anywhere between $6.5 trillion and $14 trillion. The $7 trillion figure was estimated based on a country-by-country GDP-deflator (a metric that takes inflation into account) based price index.

In terms of the loss of lives since 1900, floods accounted for nearly half the deaths. But since 1960, earthquakes were responsible for nearly 40 per cent of the deaths due to disaster. As regards the trend in disaster deaths over time, there has been a slight decrease, but, more or less, it has remained constant. Each year, nearly 50,000 people die due to natural disasters.

The researchers calculated these figures by analysing 35,000 natural disaster events using data from the CATDAT database, which compiles disaster information from online archives, books, reports and publications.

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