Tallying natural disaster-related losses

For three consecutive years, natural hazards have cost the world more than US$100 billion a year, according to new data from the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), released in Geneva on 14 March. But even this high figure only takes into account primarily insured losses in rich countries, and does not reflect losses in the developing world, said CRED Director Debby Guha-Sapir.

In 2012, natural hazard-related losses worth $138 billion were recorded - more than half of it from disasters in the US, including the devastation caused by drought and Hurricane Sandy. “All of these were insured losses,” said Guha-Sapir.

While Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,900 people in the Philippines in 2012, the country has an insurance penetration of only one percent, she added.

Losses in developing world

CRED has attempted to calculate economic losses relative to counties’ GDP to deduce the real value of losses.

2012 economic damages relative to GDP (in %)
Samoa 19.9
Haiti 3.77
Fiji 1.72
Pakistan 1.26
Madagascar 1.02
Philippines 0.80
Italy 0.78
Comoros 0.62
United States 0.57
Kenya 0.38
Source: CRED

According to these values, Samoa, Haiti, Fiji, Pakistan, Madagascar and the Philippines top the list of countries with the greatest natural hazards-related losses in 2012. US losses account for only 0.57 percent of GDP, compared to Samoa, where Cyclone Evan cost the country almost 20 percent of its GDP. The Philippines’ losses accounted for 0.80 percent of its GDP.

These figures show the impact natural disasters have on developing countries’ efforts to reduce poverty, said Elizabeth Longworth, the director of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, which jointly released the new data.

“A review of the economic losses caused by major disaster events since 1980 shows that since the mid-90s there has been a rise in economic losses, and this has turned into an upward trend,” she said.

CRED has also determined the numbers of those killed or affected by natural disasters per 100,000 inhabitants. “This provides an actual sense of numbers,” said Guha-Sapir.

She explained that in populous countries like China or India, even a small disaster can leave millions affected, overshadowing disasters in smaller countries where the lower numbers of people affected could actually comprise larger proportions of the population.

By this new calculation, Somalia, the Gambia, Paraguay, Chad and Zimbabwe top the list of countries with the largest proportion of the population killed or affected by natural disasters in 2012.

“This is still not perfect, but we feel mortality rates provide a better picture of losses in developing countries, where few if any, are insured,” said Guha-Sapir.