Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2016: The numbers and trends

Debarati Guha-Sapir, Philippe Hoyois, Pasacline Wallemacq, and Regina Below

General Overview

In 2016, 342 disasters triggered by natural hazards were registered, below the 2006-2015 annual average (376.4). After a peak in disasters in 2015 (395), this decrease could be a sign of, either a return to a declining trend in the annual number of disasters since 2005, or a precursor of a possible stabilization in the annual number of disasters. Last year, the number of deaths caused by natural disasters (8,733) was the second lowest since 2006, largely below the 2006-2015 annual average (69,827). Inversely, the number of people reported affected by natural disasters (564.4 million) was the highest since 2006, amounting to 1.5 times its annual average (224 million). The estimates of natural disaster economic damages (US$ 154 billion) place last year as the fifth costliest since 2006, 12% above the 2006-2015 annual average.

The decrease in the number of reported natural disasters in 2016 was mostly due to the number of meteorological disasters (96), which was the lowest since 2006 at 21.4 % below the 2006-2015 annual average (122.1). The number of hydrological disasters (177) was 6.9% below its decadal average (190.1) and the number of geophysical disasters (31) was close to its 2006-2015 annual average (31.6). Inversely, the number of climatological disasters (38) was the fourth highest since 2006, 16.6% above its annual average (32.6).

Each year since 2006, the number of hydrological disasters still took the largest share in natural disaster occurrences in 2016 (51.8%, for an average proportion of 50.5% for the period 2006-2015), followed by meteorological disasters (28.1% versus a decadal mean proportion of 32.4%), while climatological disasters (11.1% versus an annual mean proportion of 8.7%) overpassed geophysical disasters (9.1% for a 2006-2015 mean proportion of 8.4%).

Over the last decade, China, the United States, India, Indonesia and the Philippines constitute the top five countries that are most frequently hit by natural disasters. In 2016, with 34 natural disasters reported, China experienced its fifth highest number of natural disasters of the last decade, 15.3% above its 2006-2015 annual average of 29.5. The country was affected by a variety of disasters types, including 16 floods and landslides, 13 storms, 3 earthquakes, 1 extreme temperature episode and 1 drought. The number of natural disasters in the United States (26) was the fourth highest since 2006, 22.5% above its decadal annual average (21.5). The number of disasters in India (17) and Indonesia (15), both, were close to their 2006-2015 annual average (respectively, 16.2 and 14.1). Inversely, with 11 natural disasters, the Philippines experienced their lowest number of disasters since 2006, 39.2% below their annual average of 18.1.

In 2016, the number of people killed by disasters (8,733) was the second lowest since 2006, far below the 2006-2015 annual average of 69,827 deaths. However, thistakes into account two years with more than 200,000 people reported killed, mainly attributable to mega catastrophes: the cyclone, Nargis, in Myanmar in 2008 (138,366 deaths) and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 (222,570 deaths). Yet, even after the exclusion of these disasters, the number of deaths in 2015 remains far below a recomputed 2006-2015 annual average of 33,733 deaths.

At a more detailed level, it appears that, in 2016, floods killed the most people (4,731), however 17% below a 2006-2015 annual average of 5,709. Storms accounted for 1,797 deaths, almost 10 times less than their annual average of 17,371, and earthquakes killed 1,315 people, a number equivalent to 4% of an annual average of 35,712. Deaths from wildfires (39), landslides (361) and extreme temperatures (490) were, respectively, 48%, 62% and 94% below their annual averages.

Amongst the top ten countries for disaster mortality in 2016, six are classified as low-income or lower-middle income economies (see World Bank income classification), and accounted for 23.9% of global reported disaster mortality. Three disasters killed more than 500 people in 2016: an earthquake in Ecuador (676 deaths), Hurricane Matthew in Haiti (546 deaths), and a flood in DPR Korea (538 deaths).

The total number of people affected by disasters in 2016 (569.4 million) was the highest since 2006, far above its 2006-2015 annual average (224.1 million). This increase is mainly explained by the human impact of drought in India, which affected 330 million people in both 2015 and 2016, the highest number affected by a natural disaster ever reported. This drought makes the number of people affected by climatological disasters in 2016 (393.3 million) the highest since 2006, representing more than 4.2 times its 2006-2015 annual average. Two other droughts in Ethiopia and China affected at least 10 million people, each. Meteorological disasters affected 95.8 million people in 2016, the highest number reported since 2006 for this disaster type, which represents 2.4 times the annual average. The greater part of this number is attributable to the storm Jonas or ‘Snowzilla’ which affected 85 million people in the USA in January 2016, a number which is the second largest ever reported for meteorological disasters after the 100 million people affected by a sand/dust storm in China in 2002. The 78.1 million people affected in 2016 by hydrological disasters are near the annual average of 82.6 million. One flood in China affected 60 million people. Since 2006, only three floods in China in 2007, 2010 and 2011 affected more people, with 105, 134 and 68 million affected, respectively. The number affected by geophysical disasters (2.2 million) was the third lowest since 2006, 75.2% below the 2006-2015 annual average. An earthquake in Ecuador affected the most people (1.23 million) in April, which is far from the 40 million reported for the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008. Seven of the top ten countries, in terms of number of people affected by disasters, were low or lower-middle income countries, accounting for 63.8% of these people in 2016.

The estimated economic losses from natural disasters in 2016 (US$ 153.9 billion) was the fourth highest since 2006, almost 12% above the annual 2006-2015 damages average (US$ 137.6 billion).
This increase in total costs is related, in part, to the US$ 59 billion damages reported for hydrological disasters, an amount representing 1.74 times the annual average. Of this amount, US$ 22 billion are attributable to a flood in China, while US$ 10 billion to another flood in the USA.

Another part of this increase in disasters costs is attributable to the US$ 16 billion damages caused by climatological disasters, which corresponds to 1.69 times the annual average. One wild fire in Canada made US$ 4 billion damages, the third highest ever reported for such disasters, while one drought in China cost US$ 3 billion. The cost of meteorological disasters (US$ 46.6 billion) in 2016 remained close to the 2006-2015 annual average (US$ 48.4 billion). On the other hand, damages from geophysical disasters (US$ 32.8 billion) appeared significantly below their annual average (US$ 46.1 billion). However, this average is strongly influenced by the cost of the tsunami in Japan in 2011. When removed from the average, the 2016 costs from geophysical disasters is then 30.6% above the revalued average (US$ 25.1 billion). When looking at the top ten countries for economic damages, all countries were high or upper-middle income economies which accounted for 55.9% of the total economic losses.

The four costliest natural disasters in 2016 were a flood in China (US$ 22 billion), the Kumamoto earthquake in Japan (US$ 20 billion), a flood and Hurricane Matthew in the USA (US$ 10 billion, each). Thirty-two other disasters resulted in damages between US$ 1 and 5 billion, for a total of US$ 69.1 billion. Together, these disasters had a total cost of US$ 131.1 billion, a share of 85.1% of all reported damages in 2016.

Looking at the distribution of disaster occurrences across continents in 2016, it is similar to its average for years 2006 to 2015. Asia was most often hit (46.7%), followed by the Americas (24.3%), Africa (16.9%), Europe (8.2%), and Oceania (3.8%). However, the share of Asia is, in 2016, above its 2006-2015 annual average (41.3%), while the share of Europe in the distribution is below its annual average (13.1%). When considering UN regions, with 57 disasters reported, East Asia was the most hit, followed by Southeast Asia (54 disasters), and South Asia (40). East Africa suffered 29 disasters, while North and South America experienced 28 and 23 disasters, respectively. All other regions suffered less than 20 disasters. None of these numbers deviate significantly from their 2006-2015 annual average.
As during the previous decade, hydrological disasters were, in 2016, the most frequent in all continents, except Oceania where more meteorological disasters were reported. In all UN regions, floods were the most frequently reported disaster type, with the exception of the Caribbean, North America, East Asia, Western Europe and Polynesia, where storms predominate.

In Asia, Europe and Oceania, the share of people killed by disasters remained near their 2006-2015 annual average. However, in Africa it increased to 14.7% compared to an annual average of 4.4%. Inversely, the share of Asia in the 2016 total number of deaths (20%) was clearly below its annual average (34.2%). The UN regions with the highest numbers of deaths, East Asia (2,271), South Asia (2,210), South America (760), East Africa (716) and the Caribbean (614) were also those with the highest annual averages of people killed. However, the 676 deaths reported in Southeast Asia in 2016 are significantly below their annual average of 17,396 and remain significantly lower even when the number of deaths from cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 is removed from the average computation. The same phenomenon can be observed for the 66 deaths in Eastern Europe in 2016: their number remains significantly below the average, whether or not the more than 50,000 deaths from a heat wave in Russia in 2010 are considered for average calculation.

During the previous 2006-2015 decade, floods were the first cause of disaster deaths in all African UN regions, in Central and South America, as well as in Central, South and West Asia. Storms produced the highest numbers of deaths in North America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Extreme temperatures were the deadliest disasters in Eastern, Northern and Western Europe, and in Australia and New Zealand, while earthquakes caused the most deaths in East Asia, Southern Europe and Polynesia. In 2016, the regional deadly impacts of floods are slightly different. All African and Asian UN regions, and Western Europe saw floods killing the most people. Storms resulted in the most fatalities in North and Central America, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, and Melanesia. Earthquakes caused the most deaths in South America and in Southern Europe. Finally, in Eastern Europe, extreme temperatures continued to kill the most people.

In 2016, 17.3% of people affected by disasters, worldwide, lived in the Americas, a share which is significantly above its 2006-2015 mean proportion (5.1%). Inversely, the shares of Asia (74.9%)and Africa (7.7%) were below their annual average of 82.3% and 12.9%, respectively. The contributions of Europe and Oceania in the total number of people affected (0.02% and 0.09%, respectively) are marginal as well as their 2006-2015 average contribution (0.30% and 0.22%, respectively). The UN regions with the most people affected in 2016 were East Africa (31.8 million affected), North America (85.2 million), South Asia (337.9 million), Southern Europe (78,687), and Melanesia (364,770). The major impact of one storm in North America and one drought in South Asia propelled these two regions to first rank last year, while for years 2006-2015, South America and East Asia were the most affected regions. In seven regions, some disasters had a large impact and the number of people reported affected by disasters in 2016 was equal to its annual average multiplied by 56 in North America, by 27 in Micronesia, by nine in the Caribbean, by almost six in South Asia and South Africa, by almost three in North Africa, and by almost two in Eastern Africa.

In Africa, almost each year, droughts affect hundreds of thousands or millions people in every region. This was still the case in 2016, with a total of more than 41 million people affected, which is 1.74 times the annual average. In East, North, and South Africa, the impacts of drought were severe: the number of people affected last year represented 2, 3 and 7 times, respectively, the 2006-2015 annual averages. Inversely, in West Africa, the number of people affected by droughts was half the annual average, while no drought occurred in Central Africa. The number of people affected by floods, the second most prominent disaster on the continent, was below its annual average of 30% in North Africa, but increased to 85-90% of the annual average in Central, South, and West Africa. In East Africa, it remained close to the annual average.

In the Americas, 2016 was the worst year for people living in the Caribbean. In this region, 3.6 million people were affected by a single drought- more than three times the number affected by previous droughts; 2.5 million were affected by storms- or 10.2 times the annual average, and 1.9 million were affected by floods- or 37 times the annual average. In North America, one winter storm affected 85 million people, the second highest ever reported for a storm. Such an impact can dwarf the 96,452 people affected by wildfires, which was the second highest since 2006, and the 95,350 people affected by floods- the fourth highest since 2006. In Central America, 2 million people were affected by droughts- almost twice the annual average, and 500,000 people were affected by floods- which is 10% below the annual average. The number of people affected by other types of disasters were significantly below their annual average. In South America, more than 1.2 million people were affected by earthquakes, almost three timesthe annual average. The 130,000 people affected by volcanic activities was the third highest since 2006. On the other hand, the hundreds of thousands affected by droughts or floods were, respectively, 78% and 86% below their annual averages. Despite these grand figures, a total of almost 2.5 million people were affected by natural disasters in South America in 2016- 64% below the annual average.

In Asia, 345 million people were affected by droughts, with one long-lasting drought in India (South Asia), affecting, in both 2015 and 2016, 330 million people, which is the highest number ever reported of people affected by natural disasters. This number increases the total number of people affected in Southern Asia to almost six times its annual average, while the more than 6 million people affected by floods in this region represents only 33% of the annual average. In East Asia, more than 62 million people suffered from floods- 1.3 times the 2006-2015 annual average. Of these, one alone affected 60 million people in China. In Southeast Asia, more than 4.5 million people were affected by droughts, of which 2.5 million in Cambodia and 1.75 million in Vietnam amounted to 1.7 times the 2006-2015 annual average. In this region, the more than 5 million affected by floods was 30% below the annual average, and the 4 million affected by storms was 60% below the 2006-2015 average. In Central Asia, the 12,905 people affected by disasters, of which 12,750 were affected by one flood in Tajikistan, correspond to only 3% of the annual average. In West Asia, 91,634 people were affected by natural disasters, a number equivalent to 12% of the annual average. Among these people, 30,665, half of the annual average, were affected by a flash flood in Yemen, and 60,137- almost three times the annual average, by one wildfire in Israel.

In Europe, the total number of people reported affected by disasters (93,192) was equivalent to only 14% of its 2006-2015 annual average. People affected were unavailable for droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides, and storms. Among people affected by floods, the 14,481 living in Eastern Europe were equivalent to only 6.9% of the 2006-2015 annual average, while the 47,253 in Southern Europe amounted to 33.5% of the annual average, and the 24 reported affected in Western Europe resulted in a small 1.2% proportion of the annual average. The same equivalent of 1.2% of the annual average was found for the 1,161 people affected by wild fires in Southern Europe. Inversely, the 30,273 people affected by earthquakes in the same region in 2016 represented 1.48 times the annual average.

In Oceania, the total number of 487,332 people affected by disasters is almost equal to the 486,705, 2006-2015 annual average. Looking at UN region, the figure is more complex. Two droughts in Micronesia affected a total of 121,000 people, which is more than 18 times the number affected by a previous drought in this region. In Australia-New Zealand, 50 people affected by an earthquake amounted to 0.08% of the annual average, while the 580 people affected by to floods were equivalent to 1.4% of the annual average. In Melanesia, the 9,770 people affected by an earthquake represent 14.3 times the annual average, while the 355,000 affected by two storms are equal to 6.8 times the annual average. In Polynesia, the 392 people reported affected by storms were equivalent to only 14% of the annual average.

In 2016, the worldwide US$ 153.93 billion reported costs of natural disasters were distributed as follows among the continents: US$ 78.89 billion in Asia, US$ 57.26 billion in the Americas, US$ 10.79 billion in Europe, US$ 5.14 billion in Oceania, and US$ 1.66 billion in Africa. In proportion, this distribution does not differ significantly from its 2006-2015 annual average.
Due to the very poor reporting of damage costs in Africa, it is only possible to mention available information. In 2016, two disasters made almost 500 million US$ damages each: one long-lasting drought in Ethiopia with estimated costs of US$ 467 million in 2016, and one earthquake in Tanzania which resulted in US$ 458 million damages. In the whole African continent, only three disasters had higher costs since 2006: one flood in Algeria in 2011 (US$ 823 million damages), another flood in Nigeria in 2012 (US$ 517 million damages), and one wildfire in South Africa in 2008 (US$ 477 million damages). Still in 2016, five disasters cost between US$ 100 to 180 million for a total of US$ 672 million.

In the Caribbean, the US$ 4.6 billion total damages from Hurricane Matthew in Cuba and Haiti are, by far, the highest costs from storms reported in this region since 2006. They are also the second highest damages ever reported after the more than US$ 7 billion cost of Hurricane Georges in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico in 1998.

In Central America, costs from disasters (US$ 158 million) were notably low, amounting to only 5.7% of the 2006-2015 annual average (US$ 2.77 billion). The costliest disasters were one drought in El Salvador and one storm in Mexico which resulted in 50 million US$ damages in total.

In North America, the US$ 48.04 billion damages reported in 2016, are the fourth highest since 2006 and is equivalent to 1.4 times the 2006-2015 annual average. This increase in costs in 2016 was particularly obvious for floods (US$ 15.45 billion) and wildfires (US$ 5.5 billion), which had the highest cost since 2006, attaining, respectively, 4.3 and 4.4 times the annual average. The US$ 27.08 billion damages from storms represented 56.4% of all costs in North America, and were the fourth highest since 2006, but were still only 7% above the annual average.

In South America, the US$ 3.79 billion damages of 2016 were the fourth highest since 2006. The earthquake in Ecuador cost US$ 2 billion, or 52.8% of the total losses from damages reported for the region. Such an amount was the second highest since 2006, however, far below the more than US$ 32 billion in damages of the 2010 earthquake in Chile. Of the US$ 1.34 billion damages from floods, almost three quarter are attributable to one flood in Argentina, which cost US$ 1 billion.

One drought, alone, cost US$ 450 million in Bolivia, the third highest amount since 2006, however, far below the US$ 5 billion in damages from a 2014 drought in Brazil.

In Asia, disasters resulted in a total of US$ 78.89 billion in damages, the third highest amount of losses since 2006- 20% above the 2006-2015 annual average. No damages were reported for the two disasters which occurred in Central Asia. In East Asia, the highest costs were reported for floods which resulted in a total of US$ 32.26 billion in damages and earthquakes, a total of US$ 21.02 billion. For floods, it was the highest amount of damages reported since 2006, representing 3.4 times the 2006-2015 annual average, with US$ 22 billion in damages from a flood in China being the highest amount of losses from floods since 2006. Damages from earthquakes were the third highest since 2006, but with the cost of the Kumamoto earthquake in Japan (US$ 20 billion) equaling less than a tenth of the cost of the tsunami in 2011 (US$ 221 billion). Storms resulted in US$ 8.03 billion in damages with the costliest storms occurring in China, from typhoons Ferdie/Meranti (US$ 2.3 billion) and Butchoy/ Nepartak (1.51 US$). These last two costs were far below the US$ 6.84 billion damages reported for the tropical storm Fitow, also in China, in 2013.

Also in China, one drought cost 3 billion US$, the second highest amount reported for this disaster since 2006, after the 3.46 billion US$ from a previous drought in this country in 2006. A cold wave cost 1.6 billion US$ in China, however, this amount, also the second highest since 2006, is far below the 23.4 billion US$ in damages from severe winter conditions in China in 2008. One landslide cost 700 million US$ in China, which is the second highest cost since the 830 million US$ from another landslide in China in 2010.

In Southeast Asia, the 5.54 billion US$ damages were 42% below the annual average. The costliest disasters were two long-lasting droughts in Vietnam and Thailand - the second and third droughts with amounts of damages reported in this region - of which the last year damages were estimated at 2.25 and 1.1 billion US$, respectively . One flood made 500 million US$ damages in Vietnam, an uncommon amount in comparison with the 42.3 billion US$ losses from the flood in Thailand in 2011. The typhoon Aere resulted in 350 million US$ in losses in Vietnam- also far from the 10.21 billion US$ from Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines in 2013. In Indonesia, an earthquake resulted in 100 million US$ in damages, far below the 3.68 or 2.46 billion US$ losses from two other earthquakes in the same country in 2006 and 2009, respectively.