Cred Crunch Newsletter, Issue No. 52 (October 2018) - Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters

Originally published


Between 1998 and 2017 climate-related and geophysical disasters killed 1.3 million people and left a further 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance. While the majority of fatalities were due to geophysical events, mostly earthquakes and tsunamis, 91% of all disasters were caused by floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

In 1998-2017 disaster-hit countries also reported direct economic losses valued at US$ 2,908 billion, of which climate-related disasters caused US$ 2,245 billion or 77% of the total. This is up from 68% (US$ 895 billion) of losses (US$ 1,313 billion) reported between 1978 and 1997. Overall, reported losses from extreme weather events rose by 151% between these two 20-year periods.
Such losses are only part of the story, since the majority of disaster reports to EM-DAT (63%) contains no economic data.

In absolute monetary terms, over the last 20-year, the USA (US$ 945 billion) and China (US$ 492 billion) recorded the biggest losses, reflecting high asset values as well as frequent events.

Absolute losses also mask the relatively greater burden of disasters on the poor. When economic costs are expressed as an average percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this becomes clearer.
Figure (a) shows that only one high income territory ranked among the top 10 in terms of percentage of GDP losses over the past 20 years (Puerto Rico). Apart from upper-middle income Cuba, the other worst-hit nations were all lower income countries, led by Haiti.

In terms of occurrences, climate-related disasters dominate the picture over the past 20 years, accounting for 91% of all 7,255 recorded events between 1998 and 2017. Within this total, floods were the most frequent type of disaster, 43% of all recorded events.

In 1998-2017, storms (233,000 deaths), including tropical cyclones and hurricanes, were second only to earthquakes (747,234 deaths) in terms of fatalities. Storms were also by far the costliest type of disaster (b), with reported storm losses amounting to US$ 1,300 billion over the past 20 years, twice the reported losses for either flooding or earthquakes.

Fatalities from climate-related disasters also reflect vulnerabilities rather than being a crude function of the rising number of occurrences. Unlike earthquakes, populations vulnerable to extreme weather events are more evenly spread around the globe.