In 2018 alone, a myriad of natural disasters such as extreme temperatures, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, dust storms, volcanic eruptions and floods devastated communities, took thousands of lives and affected millions across the globe (TOI
; WOTP 2018 )—from the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea in February; the heat wave in May through the month of Ramadan in Karachi, Pakistan that killed at least 65 people; catastrophic floods through the months of June–September across various countries: Japan, Nigeria, North Korea and India (wherein, entire states of Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland along with others in the North East Region were submerged); multiple volcanic eruptions in Guatemala throughout the year including Mt. Fuego in November; wildfires—the most devastating of which were in Greece in July, and California in early November; and finally earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia greater than 6.9 in magnitude in August and September, as well as an underwater volcanic eruption and landslide in end December that culminated in a tsunami killing at least 373 people. These extreme events reflect only a few of the natural calamities that wreaked havoc on communities and necessitated humanitarian action. 2018
The new millennium has witnessed numerous instances of climatological and geological phenomena that not only outlie the usually observed trends and values of these variables, but also surpassed their maximal values in recorded history.
Whether a consequence of improved communications technology, or a real increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, the high global reportage of such extreme climatological and geophysical events is a sign of caution which necessitates proactive action on behalf of multilateral organizations, governments and communities around the world. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) in Brussels, Belgium is responsible for the maintenance of the EM-DAT or Emergency Events Database—a worldwide database on disasters established since 1988 with the sponsorship of USAID/OFDA. 9 Compiled from various sources including UN agencies, NGOs, insurance companies, research institutes and press agencies, it contains core data on the occurrence and impacts of natural and technological disasters in the world, dating from 1900. 10
CRED defines a disaster as “a situation or event which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to a national or international level for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering”; and categorizes them as ‘natural’—geophysical, meteorological, hydrological, climatological and biological—or ‘technological’, largely comprising industrial disasters and accidents (Guha-Sapir et al.
For a disaster to be entered into the EM-DAT database, at least one of the following criteria must be fulfilled:
10 or more people reported killed
100 or more people reported affected
Declaration of a state of emergency
Call for international assistance.
The primary objective of the database is to assist humanitarian action in decision-making for emergency preparedness and vulnerability assessment. The incidence of disasters from natural hazards is increasing in every region of the world. Comparing the occurrence of natural disasters in the two periods, 1980–89 and 2000–09, the latter saw three times the number of natural disasters, with 80% of this increase accounted for by climate related disasters, while geophysical disasters “remained stable” (Leaning and Guha-Sapir
); reported weather-related disasters have tripled in 30 years (Oxfam 2013 ); while the number of people exposed to floods and tropical cyclones have doubled and tripled respectively, since 1970 (UNISDR 2011 ). 2015
What makes a natural phenomenon truly disastrous is the extent of damage it causes to existing social structures and the regression in development that takes place as a result of it. Since 1900, 217 million people were affected annually, and about 300 million live amidst ‘violent insecurity’ around the world. The long-term effects of these statistics would be manifested as humanitarian crises, both in natural-disaster prone areas as well as conflict-ridden zones. Advances in small arms technology and struggle for natural resources like oil and minerals have made international conflict resolution difficult and displaced large populations, leaving them to seek refuge across national borders with the adverse risk of malnutrition and disease.
Comparing the economic damage and loss incurred on account of disaster occurrences across continents, Leaning and Guha-Sapir (
) found that climate change contributed to a five-fold increase in weather-related natural disasters in North America; a four-fold increase in Asia; and a two-fold increase in Europe. In the Sahel region of West Africa, a food crisis used to strike once a decade; but there have been three major food crises in the last 10 years, so people have had little time to get back on their feet, let alone develop buffers, before the next one hits. 2013
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, published a Special Report (SREX) exploring the challenges to “understanding and managing the risks of climate extremes to advance climate change adaptation” (IPCC
). Taking disasters to be adverse impacts of climate events that “produce widespread damage and cause severe alterations in the normal functioning of communities or societies”, the report establishes the physical and social dimensions of disasters, laying special emphasis on the latter vis-à-vis ‘exposure’ and ‘vulnerability’. In essence, a disaster occurrence combines the prevalence of an extreme natural phenomenon with exposure and vulnerability of a community, its infrastructure and resources. Thus, there is a need to understand the implications of anthropogenic and natural climate change and extremes; and build capacities of communities and institutions to improve resilience and better adapt or transform themselves to mitigate risk and enhance emergency preparedness and response in the event of a disaster. 2011
Although disasters are sudden, and often unavoidable or uncontrollable, their occurrence, increased frequency and intensity have both natural and man-made causes. Biological disasters are manifest in the epidemics, infestations and other forms of exposure to toxic substances, while climatological and meteorological are largely distinguished in terms of the scale of the processes involved—the former defined as “long-lived/meso to macro scale processes” which range from intra-seasonal to multi-decadal climate variability such as extreme temperatures, droughts and wildfires (Guha-Sapir et al.
). While natural causes include tectonic movements and irregular weather patterns, humans also have a role to play in affecting natural phenomena that turn devastating and are then categorized as ‘disasters’. Climate change and global warming are collectively the frontrunners for man-made contributions to natural disaster occurrences. Global warming affects weather patterns resulting in extreme temperatures, irregular monsoon and snowfall patterns, as well as temperature changes in wind and water currents. These effects then manifest as heat and cold waves, droughts, floods and blizzards, as well as tropical storms and hurricanes. EM-DAT shows that of the natural disasters reported in the 1900–2012, hydro-meteorological disasters were the largest in number, i.e., hydrological, meteorological and climatological events (Table
Distribution of disaster events by type, comparing 2016 against 2006–2015 annual averages
Earthquakes also contribute to large scale damage and loss of life as they are often accompanied by one or more of the following: landslides, tsunamis, mudslides, avalanches, sinkholes and even volcanic eruptions. These geophysical disasters are seemingly unrelated to human events—they are caused by sudden releases of energy through the earth’s crust manifesting as mechanical energy and causing shifts in the tectonic plates. However, geophysical events are indirectly affected by human activities: flawed policies of development, destruction of the environment, pollution, mining activities, population growth, excessive urbanization and industrialization, rising inequality causing discontent, migration to previously under-populated (and often unsafe and hazard-prone) areas, are the prime causes that cumulatively affect the earth’s surface, enhance vulnerability of settlements and over time contribute towards increasing the impact of geophysical phenomena and conflict.
Yet another category of natural disasters gaining traction across the globe is that of biological disasters—but heavily influenced by human population and migration, since these disasters are caused by the spread of disease as witnessed in the last decade through the H1N1 (Swine Flu) and Ebola pandemics more recently. Lack of sufficient human development in several parts of the world, make the local populations vulnerable, and make visiting/migrating populations the carriers for these diseases.
However, the increase in frequency and intensity of disasters is not globally uniform. Some regions of the world are more prone to disasters than others; they are more ‘vulnerable’. Among the continents, Asia and North America—the largest landmasses—are most frequently hit by disasters. China, US, India, Indonesia and the Philippines are the five countries affected by the largest number of disaster events as documented in the ADSR
s (2006–2017), as a result they are prone to having the most devastating and expensive disaster occurrences. The following table provides a comparison of natural disaster events for the decade: 2006–2016 wherein the figures for 2016 are measured against the annual average for the preceding years (Table
Top 5 countries frequently hit by natural disasters in the decade 2006–2016
This is not to say that the other continents are not subject to natural disasters; Europe extreme-weather events: Some of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Africa are most devastated by droughts, floods and famines, Oceania experiences cyclonic weather while mainland Australia regularly experiences disastrous floods and wildfires; and South America is affected by earthquakes and more recently has been experiencing a long-term drought. The next section provides a broad overview of disasters by regions.
Since the early 2000s, the African continent comprising 54 countries was fraught with the impact of biological disaster events and the famine and starvation that accompanied droughts. Riverine floods, cyclones, earthquakes and occasional volcanic activity continue to disturb the region, varying between 72 and 81 disasters annually (Guha-Sapir et al.
, p. 41). However the slow pace of development has borne some fruit in terms of reduced biological disasters over the years, even as the Ebola pandemic of 2014 devastated several nations like Senegal and Nigeria as well as West African countries like Guinea and spread like wildfire to its neighbours, Sierra Leone and Liberia (CDCP
). While droughts in other parts of the world, like Brazil in 2013–14, account for huge economic costs, in Africa, droughts have direct impacts on death tolls as famine and food shortage increase starvation deaths in the Least Developed Countries, and poor health conditions act as fertile ground for the spread of disease. The 2011 East African drought is referred to as the “worst African drought in 60 years” owing to the famine that affected 10 million people and spread across Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya that are part of the Horn of Africa (Vallely
). Even as some African countries struggle to fight drought conditions, annual floods are also a cause of worry across the continent as shown by the 2010–11 floods in South Africa.
Regionally, East Africa is the worst affected by disasters—652 deaths in 2016 alone, the 4th highest number of disasters in a year since 2006, and accounting for more than half of the total 1,285 disaster deaths in Africa in 2016 (Guha-Sapir et al.
). Of the hydrological disasters having struck Africa in 2016, more than half occurred in East Africa—with a similar trend in climatological (mostly droughts), and meteorological disasters across the continent. In 2016, Central and North Africa experienced their 2nd and 3rd deadliest years since 2006 respectively; two floods in Angola resulting in 54 deaths; one flood in the Democratic Republic of Congo which caused 50 deaths; and one flash flood in Algeria causing 171 deaths. West Africa’s deadliest flood in Niger, killed 50—a comparatively lower death toll compared to that of the 2012 flood in Nigeria which was reportedly as high as 363 people (Fig.
Number of disasters in Africa, comparing average 2006–2015 and 2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
It is pertinent to recognize the poor reportage of human and economic impact of disaster events due to weak data collection systems, thereby making it difficult to estimate the true extent of loss and number of deaths or population affected for all disaster events in Africa. In 2014, one riverine flood in South Africa caused an estimated 85 million USD in economic damage, while two flash floods in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo caused damages of 20 and 15 million USD respectively (Guha-Sapir et al.
). However, economic damages are scarcely reported: in 2014, only 5 natural disasters in the continent (Guha-Sapir et al. 2014 ), only 10.2% of all disasters were reported for the period 2006–2015, and 19% for all events in 2016. While better reporting has been observed in East, West and largely in Southern Africa, there is also a need to cautiously interpret any synthetic data presented (Guha-Sapir et al. 2014 ) (Fig. 2016 ). 1
North, central and South America are highly susceptible to frequent hydro-meteorological and geophysical events that have disastrous outcomes. Beginning with the North American landmass, its latitudinal expanse coupled with its location between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans make Canada, USA and Mexico especially vulnerable to myriad weather-related disasters. Canada and the north-eastern coast of the US experience extreme cold weather, the likes of frequent blizzards and a polar vortex (such as in 2014) in addition to a few cyclonic storms from the North Atlantic waters.
Number of disasters in Americas, comparing average 2006–2015 and 2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
However, the tropical cyclones and hurricanes that strike the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern coast of the US, rake up economic damages worth billions of USD at their worst: the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season—chief among them, Hurricanes Rita, Wilma, and Katrina—were reportedly the most expensive disasters in US history amounting to over 150 billion USD in economic damage. In 2018, hurricanes Michael and Florence were similarly expensive, as was the preceding 2017 hurricane season especially marked by hurricane Maria (Category 4) in September, which devastated the US territory of Puerto Rico,
and cost nearly 69.7 billion USD in damages; hurricane Irma (Category 5) costing 80.7 billion USD, and hurricane Harvey (Category 4) in August, estimating 95 billion USD and 200,000 homes in damages. 12
The American mid-West—the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas, among a few others regularly experience tornados that are characteristically accompanied by hail storms. Varying in wind speeds, these twisters have the capacity to uproot trees, houses and even vehicles—leaving a path of debris and devastation in their wake. Annually households are devastated in the aftermath of these tornados as they struggle to rebuild what was ripped away. Further west and towards Mexico, as well as the coastal regions of California and other south-western states regularly experience earthquakes as well as flooding in the aftermath of underwater earthquakes that the Pacific waters are susceptible to, being in the ‘Ring of Fire’. In addition to these, the desert conditions of the Nevada as well as temperatures in Texas, New Mexico and further south into Mexico have been recently flaring up into extreme temperatures giving rise to heat waves and wildfires across these states. California experienced its deadliest wildfire in November 2018, affecting 153,336 acres, destroying 14,000 homes and hundreds of other structures, killing at least 85 of which only 54 were identified, and at least 296 missing (TOI
The region of central America—the Caribbean islands and other countries south of Mexico—sit on tectonic plates that make them vulnerable to earthquakes such as that of Haiti (2010) while also being affected by the cyclonic storms that hit the Gulf of Mexico, like tropical storm Matthew, also in 2010. As compared to their North American neighbours including Mexico, several of these nations are poorly developed with Haiti being the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 killed more than 160,000 people and displaced nearly 1.5 million (Laurent
). As of 2010, Haiti’s HDI was 0.450 placing it in the least developed category, and in 2011, Haiti ranked 158 out of 187 countries (UNDP 2015 ). In an article by 2013 Time published in January 2015, Haiti is still to recover completely from the devastation of the earthquake. Low socio-economic development makes these nations far more vulnerable than developed economies the likes of the US or Chile—both of which are hit by disaster events that are far greater in magnitude and intensity than those hitting the central American territories. Thus, development plays a huge role in determining the resilience of a community, country or region during and in the aftermath of a disaster.
Countries in Central and South America like the western coast of North America regularly experience geophysical events—with volcanic and seismic activity along the Ring of Fire down to Chile, Colombia and Peru in South America affecting millions of people. Chile especially has, in just the last five years, experienced several earthquakes that measure above 8.0 on the Richter scale in magnitude. While it is difficult to ascertain a direct link between human activity and geophysical occurrences, it is clear, as in the case of Chile that even this type of disaster is occurring with greater frequency and intensity with each passing year.
When discussing the detrimental impact of human activities on the environment and disasters, the large-scale deforestation and industrialisation of parts of the once lush Amazon rainforest is one of the iconic examples that comes to mind. The rainforest which feeds the largest river basin in the world and is a rich source of biodiversity is credited as the biggest contributor to climate regulation especially through the monsoons. The harsh consequences of Amazonian deforestation are thus evident in the recurring droughts that home-country Brazil has been facing since 2013.
Besides contributing to global rainfall patterns—or the lack thereof in the event of dry spells and droughts, the Amazon rainforest which spans multiple countries across South America across its 7.4 m sq km area is also prone to forest fires due to natural and anthropogenic causes. The latter include indigenous traditions of slash and burn utilized for clearing cultivable land which is now widely practiced by farmers as well. Increasing deforestation backed by economic policies geared towards increasing industrialization, clearing land for cultivation and cattle ranches, and the already rising impact of global warming and climate change have together contributed towards a significant rise in the number of Amazon fires in 2019 alone. Between the 1 January–29 August, 2019 the Amazon has witnessed 87,300 fires in Brazil, 26,600 in Venezuela, 19,400 in Bolivia, 14,400 in Colombia and 6700 in Peru according to the National Institute for Space Research and as reported by the BBC
. While Brazil alone has experienced a higher number of fires in the 2000s (the highest being in 2005), as well as the natural factors that contribute towards forest fires in the dry months between July–October, the sustained crisis which has significant detrimental impacts on the global climate, weather patterns and pollution levels is also affecting the lives and livelihoods of indigenous populations that call the rainforest their home. Due to the scale at which the Amazon was burning, smoke and ash from the rainforest in the northwest of Brazil was carried as far as the Atlantic coast. Moreover, carbon monoxide a highly poisonous, odourless and colourless gas produced from the incomplete combustion of wood in the absence of oxygen is also generated due to the sustained nature of the rainforest fires. 13
As the largest country in South America, an emerging economy, and home to the largest rainforest in the world, Brazil is neither used to inadequate rainfall nor is it equipped to handle the acute shortage of water owing to poor water management by municipal and state administrations even in its largest cities—Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro which were also most recently affected by the Zika virus. Added to this are the frequent floods, landslides and avalanches as well as ash fall from active volcanoes that impact the region. Several of these disasters are attributed to
El Nino—the climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean that begins with warm waters in the western tropical Pacific move south-eastwards along the coast of South America to Indonesia and the Philippines (Perez ). The warm phase along the ocean has global impacts on weather patterns and is thus attributed as a cause for several events like thunderstorms giving rise to landslides and mudslides as well as avalanches in the mountainous terrains of the South American countries—Argentina, Colombia, Chile among others. 2015
China and India, the most populous countries of the world, have the largest number of disaster victim statistics year after year. Since the earthquake and tsunami of 2004, the biggest disaster events in Asia have been the 8.3 Mw earthquake in Kashmir (Pakistan and India) and the monsoonal floods in Mumbai, India in 2005; cyclone Sidr and Aila in the Bay of Bengal affecting the Sundarbans and Bangladesh in 2007 and 2009 respectively; the earthquake in Sichuan, China and cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, both in 2008; the Japanese earthquake of 2011, measuring 9.0 Mw and immediately followed by a massive tsunami leading up to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster; the floods in Uttarakhand, India and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines in 2013, the Kashmir floods and cyclone Hudhud of 2014; and the earthquakes in Nepal and Japan in 2015. In 2018, floods in North Korea and Japan, several states in India, as well as earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia have taken place (Fig.
Number of disasters in Asia, comparing average 2006–2015 and 2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
India in particular has been facing the adverse impact of floods nearly every year—Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Bihar being the worst affected by flash floods in recent years. Additionally, the state of Kerala in August 2018 experienced the worst flood in 100 years with 12 out of 14 districts on red alert, landslides in the northern regions and the deluge across the state flooding homes, submerging roads and bridges, and destroying agriculture and tourism sectors in the state as well as public infrastructure, with economic damages running into several thousand crores.
The severe flooding displaced 70,000 and affected several thousand more, killing at least 324 people. The estimated cost of the disaster is nearly 2.7 billion USD (Kazmin and Mundy 14 ). Similarly, devastating floods were experienced in the North East Region and Himachal Pradesh in August–September 2018. The following year, even more States across various parts of India were affected by severe floods—the worst of which were in the North East Region, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. Kerala experienced yet another season of floods and landslides during the monsoons around the fragile areas of the Western Ghats. As many as 13 States were affected between July and September 2019 including parts of Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and Rajasthan. In the last few years, the number of Indian States affected by flash floods and other disasters resulting from monsoon deluges has been on the rise. With monsoons being directly affected by global climate and weather patterns, it is no surprise that the rising global temperatures are manifesting as droughts and dry spells one end of the spectrum and flash floods at the other extreme. The State of Tamil Nadu is a prime example of this as it experienced an acute water crisis during the Indian summer of 2019 in its capital of Chennai, while Nilgris situated along the Western Ghats was its worst affected district by floods during the monsoons. 2018
Asia is frequently impacted by earthquakes and tsunamis caused around and as an aftershock of seismic activity in the Ring of Fire as well as the Alpide belt (pictured above). While the ‘Ring of Fire’ is a seismic belt in the Pacific basin, the Alpide belt stretches from Java and Sumatra to the Himalayas, through the Mediterranean and out to the Atlantic. The 2015 earthquakes of Nepal (25 April, 7.8 Mw and 12 May, 7.3 Mw) are a prime example of such events in this region. Due to the mountainous terrain of this belt, landslides and avalanches are common examples of associated disasters that take place in the event of seismic movements. The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal was shortly followed by an avalanche triggered from Pumori Mountain on the Nepali–Tibetan border into a Mt. Everest base camp which killed at least 22 people. Similarly, Afghanistan with its terrain frequently experiences slides and collapses in the event of heavy rainfall or earthquakes in surrounding areas. Earthquakes in either of the two seismic belts associated with Asia can all potentially produce tsunami waves, as was the case in December 2004 and most recently in December 2018, with the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami.
Besides geophysical events, the number of large rivers and sub-tropical conditions of most of Asia give rise to several hydro-meteorological events as well. Tropical cyclones are revolving storms that occur in areas of extreme low pressure combined with winds that exceed 119 km/h (74 mph or 64 knots). From the Bay of Bengal in the Indian subcontinent region to as far as Japan, is a region frequently struck by typhoons or hurricanes the likes of cyclone Aila (2009) and Haiyan (2013) in the Philippines among others previously mentioned. The proximity to the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, and the excess humidity are causes for thunderstorms and floods induced by excessive rainfall during the annual monsoons as has been witnessed across India in recent years.
Biological disasters have a great impact in this region as several countries—especially in the Indian subcontinent—are overpopulated and still developing. Widespread poverty, poor sanitation and public health facilities, result in high levels of vulnerability. Countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos are highly vulnerable to pandemics such as with H1N1 in 2009–10, but are also, unfortunately still plagued by epidemics of dengue, typhoid, tuberculosis and other such diseases that have greatly been stifled in other, more developed, parts of the world. This is also because the standard of living and the health status of people with regard to their nutrition and immunity, as well as sanitation problems that arise especially in overcrowded urban areas.
Extreme weather events, hurricanes from the North Atlantic and floods regularly affect European countries. Occasionally volcanic eruptions result in ash fall across the continent such as that of Mt. Eyjafjallajökull in the Easter Volcanic Zone of southern Iceland in 2010. In 2005, wildfires spread across Spain and Portugal resulting in huge economic damages to the region, while Ukraine suffered a cold wave resulting in 801 deaths in January 2006, and France, Netherlands and Belgium were affected by a heat wave killing 3328 people (1388, 1000 and 940 deaths respectively) in July of the same year (Hoyois et al.
). Great Britain and Ireland on the other hand face frequent flooding, almost annually in recent years owing to heavy rainfall. In the last few years, extreme climate events have resulted in devastating heatwaves in summers as well as largescale wildfires (Portugal in June 2017, and coastal Greece in July 2018). The Attica wildfires in coastal Greece killed at least 100 during the already oppressive European heatwave in July, with reported instances of people drowning in the sea fleeing the fires (BBC News
Unlike Africa and Asia however, Europe shows little to no reports of biological disasters. This can be associated with the generally high standard of living, human and economic development, sanitation and health facilities as well as the generally high standards of public health that curb the spread of disease across Europe (historically infamous for epidemics of plague among other diseases ferried by immigrants to the Americas and consequently killing large proportions of the native populations there). Development has a huge role to play in how Europe tackles natural disasters as well. Sophisticated disaster management technology and awareness among the population have a great impact in reducing the extent of the disaster. However, the economic costs and damages could be higher in economically developed countries (Fig.
Number of disasters in Europe, comparing average 2006–2015 and 2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
In comparison to the rest of the world the region of Oceania, comprising Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, as well as several coral atolls and volcanic islands of the South Pacific Ocean including the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian island groups,
is least affected by disasters, accounting for only 11 disasters in 2014 against its decadal average of 14. Climatological disasters are not very frequent in Oceania, and only 1 was reported for 2014. However, climate change is fast affecting and threatening life on the island nations and territories of Oceania as evident by the partial submergence of parts of the Tuvalu islands as early as 2007 due to “‘king tides’ that peak in February and have been rising higher than ever” and is likely to be fully submerged in the next 50 years given the current rates of rising sea levels (Adams
). Other islands in the region such as Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, and Fiji also face a similar threat. Inundation by saltwater is a huge problem that affects the submerged or flooded parts of these islands rendering them economically unproductive as well. Luckily, for Tuvalu, neighbouring nation New Zealand takes in a quota of Tuvaluans every year and has also assured the smaller nation to absorb the entire population in the event of a threat of complete submergence and need for population evacuation and rehabilitation (Fig.
Number of disasters in Oceania, comparing average 2006–2015 and 2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
Besides the rising sea levels, the continent of Australia and the proximate Pacific islands are also frequently flooded as was evident in Australia in 2010–2011 with 175,000 affected. In 2014, only 4 flood events were reported of which the most severe were the floods in Solomon Islands (52,000 affected) and Papua New Guinea (27,000 victims). These island countries also experience earthquakes and volcanic activity regularly, but the only geophysical disaster of 2014 was the volcanic eruption of Mt. Bagana in Papua New Guinea affecting 1,380 persons; in contrast, a volcanic eruption and continuous activity of Manam also in the same country had affected 11,000 people, one among other instances of volcanic activity such as in Vanuatu in 2008–09 affecting 9000 (Guha-Sapir et al.
). In February 2011, however, Christchurch in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island experienced an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale; it was recorded as the second-deadliest natural disaster in the country, killing 185 people, and severely damaging the central city and suburbs as it followed a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that had occurred in the Canterbury region in September 2010. As in Europe, reported cases of biological disasters in Oceania are relatively insignificant. However, Australia is known to suffer damages from wildfires and bushfires regularly. 2014
The following section analyses the frequency and intensity of disaster events: regional trends, human impact and economic losses as reported by the EM-DAT. The data is sourced from Annual Disaster Statistical Review (ADSRs) by the CRED. The ADSRs cover the natural disasters (excluding biological ones) for the period 2006–2016, spanning little more than a decade. Thus, the trends and changes in disaster impacts are reflective of global socio-economic dynamics, and the evolution of the disaster management and emergency response sector (Fig.
Number of disasters and people killed per 1,000 for the period 1990–2016
Source Guha-Sapir et al. ) 2016
Comparing disaster events in the years in the twenty-first century alone, the surge in disasters in 2004–2005 was followed by a sharp decline in 2006; another surge in 2010 was followed by a steady decline until 2014–15 which saw a steady rise in the number of disasters, followed by a marginally lesser decline in the following year, 2015–16. In terms of the deadliest disaster-years, 2008 and 2010 accounted for the highest death tolls—over 200,000 attributable to cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the earthquake in Haiti respectively. Within the decade, the ADSR 2014 showed that fewer disasters in general, and hydro-meteorological disasters in particular, have occurred in 2014 than in the decade 2004–2013. While there was a slight increase in number of persons affected by hydro-meteorological disasters in the Americas, 2014 reflected lesser disaster impacts in Asia, Africa and Europe as compared to the decadal averages. The figures for 2016 and 2017 are similar—with 342 and 335 disaster events—close to their preceding decadal averages of 376.4 and 354 events respectively. While Asia and the Americas continue to be the worst affected regions across the world in terms of the number of disasters, what is reassuring is that the human loss for 2017 (9,697 people) was well below the decadal average of 68,274 (so inflated due to outliers 2008 and 2010 as explained above).
While individual years within the past decade might appear to contradict the proposed argument that there is an increase in frequency and intensity of disasters, comparing this decade to its preceding decade of 1990s as reflected in Fig.
, shows a steady incline in disasters over the two decades. In spite of the role played by human populations in contributing to climate change, pressure on land, and the spread of disease, natural disasters occur randomly for the most part. Additionally, some years such as 2005, 2008, and 2010 can disproportionately affect trend-lines in annual studies and undermine the effects of years immediately before and after these surge years. Although major disasters make news headlines internationally, the reality is that—for poor people—it is the frequent, but relatively smaller-scale disasters (some of which are often “extensive”)—such as localised floods, landslides and storms—that damage livelihoods, houses and assets and drives people further into poverty (Hillier and Nightingale 6 ). They are responsible for a very significant proportion of total disaster impact: 54% of houses damaged, 80% of people affected, 83% of people injured, yet people receive little or no government support or external assistance (UNISDR 2013 ). 2015
Thus, comparing year-on-year impact of disasters across the world to postulate the frequency of disasters and the intensity of each disaster is a faulty methodology. Additionally, improved disaster detection mechanisms and technology have helped meteorologists and researchers detect the occurrence and impact of disasters more efficiently. However, the increasing trend of disasters in decadal studies would show that some of the worst disasters in the history of the world have occurred within the last decade. Improved efficiency in humanitarian response and emergency preparedness, coupled with economic development observed even in the developing world has greatly contributed towards the declining number of disaster deaths as observed in the World Disaster Report, 2016. Yet, the number of affected populations continues to run into hundreds of thousands annually, while economic damages are accelerating with each passing year (Below and Wallemacq
While extreme events and natural disasters have been occurring for centuries, concerted efforts towards studying and managing them became prevalent in the mid-1970s. Since then, disaster management, involving emergency preparedness and humanitarian outreach, has been constantly evolving to integrate and innovate best practices to improve efficiency of response and reduce vulnerabilities. Its most recent paradigm, known as Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
encompasses the instrumental measures applied for estimating the potential or existing risk exposure, hazard or vulnerability. The IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events (
) defined disaster risk as “the likelihood over a specified time period of severe alterations in the normal functioning of a community or a society due to hazardous physical events interacting with vulnerable social conditions, leading to widespread adverse human, material economic or environmental effects that require immediate emergency response to satisfy critical human needs and that may require external support for recovery”. Disaster risk management (DRM) therefore, involves the processes for designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies, policies and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction, and transfer and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery practices.
The UN’s 2nd World Conference on Disaster Reduction (2005) in Kobe, Japan held days after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami convened to deliberate and give formal approval to the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005–2015) at the WCDR making it the first internationally accepted framework for DRR which set out ordered objectives with five priorities for action which ‘captured’ the main areas of DRR intervention.
The successor accord to the HFA was adopted at the World Conference on DRR held in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan. The framework document emerged from 3 years of deliberations wherein UN member states, NGOs and other stakeholders sought to improve the then-existing HFA with a common set of standards, comprehensive framework with achievable targets, and a legally-based instrument for disaster risk reduction. The stakeholders further emphasised the need to integrate and address DRR and climate change into the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030, since the Millennium Development Goals had fallen short on focusing on risk reduction and resilience. The accord has since been known as the Sendai Framework for DRR (2015–2030) and set out four priorities:
Understanding disaster risk
Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk
Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience
Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to ‘Build Back Better’ in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Seven global targets have been agreed upon to facilitate the proposed outcome of the Framework:
Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030,
Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030,
Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product by 2030
Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030
Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020
Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of the framework by 2030
Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.
Additionally, the UN’s biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction provided an opportunity for the UN and member states to review their progress against HFA, with the first session held in 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland where the UNISDR is based. Subsequent Global Platforms in 2009, 2011 and 2013 were also held here with the exception of the Global Platform 2017 held in Cancun, Mexico. This fifth session reaffirmed the need to fully implement the SFDRR (UN-SPIDER
) in order to reinforce the achievements of the other international agendas (chief amongst them the SDG-Agenda, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the New Urban Agenda). It also reconfirmed the Global Platform as a fundamental mechanism for effective implementation of DRR within these international agendas, as well as its crucial role towards preventing and reducing humanitarian crises. 2017
The Global Platform has been largely commended for its multi-stakeholder approach towards assessing and reviewing the implementation of DRR agenda at the global level, sharing knowledge and identifying gaps to improve and accelerate the implementation. In the five sessions since 2007, each with specific themes, the recurrent topics of focus have been: “national and local implementation; investments & economics of DRR; and linkages and coherence with climate change and sustainable development”.
The 2019 edition returns to Geneva in May and focuses on mainstreaming gender throughout the discussions to be held with the aim to foster women’s participation in the Global Platform. The thematic focus of the GP is the ‘Resilience Dividend’—towards sustainable and inclusive societies to reflect on how managing disaster risk and promoting risk-informed development investments pay dividends in multiple sectors and geographies. 17
While extreme events continue to manifest into disasters of catastrophic proportions, the recent developments in humanitarian response reflect a decline in the number of disaster deaths which is a positive takeaway for organizations and agents engaged in this sector. The most recent Annual Disaster Statistical Reviews published suggest that the average number of disasters continues to be nearly 350 per year. Bearing this in mind, it falls to the various stakeholders from the national to the community level to better prepare themselves to respond to emergency situations, as well as reduce their disaster risk exposure or vulnerabilities where possible in order to drastically reduce the human and economic impact of disasters. In essence, the interplay of the physical and social dimensions of extreme events and vulnerability is what contributes to the year-on-year increase in economic losses as well as the number of persons affected. Effective implementation of these global DRR strategies at the grassroots is therefore the crucial first step in that direction.