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Cred Crunch Newsletter, Issue No. 56 (November 2019) - Disasters in Africa: 20 Year Review (2000-2019)

Originally published


Every year Africa is affected by dozens of various disasters across the continent. Despite these events, deadlier or costlier disasters in Asia and North America often overshadow disasters in Africa. However, with a rapidly growing population and increasing impact of climate change, the disaster impact in Africa will likely increase in the coming decades. Therefore, CRED Crunch 56 will focus on disasters across the African continent in the past 20 years.

With over 50 countries across approximately 30 million square kilometers of land, the threat of natural hazards in Africa varies greatly by geography and season. Figure 1 demonstrates the type of disaster that affects the highest number of people in each African country. Regions of southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel have been most affected by drought, while much of central Africa and western Africa has been most affected by floods. Countries in south-eastern Africa (some of which are not featured on the map) face an annual cyclone season leaving them most affected by storms.

Although disasters occur across the entire continent, some countries are more affected than others. Since 2000, Kenya (60 events), Mozambique (55 events), and South Africa (54 events) experienced the highest number of disasters as they regularly face storms, droughts, and flooding. The 3 most populated subSaharan countries, Nigeria (49 events), Ethiopia (43 events), and D.R. Congo (41 events), also fall into the top 10. In terms of death tolls, as seen in Figure 2, Somalia ranks first primarily as a result of the 2010 drought, while Algeria ranks second with most deaths occurring from a single earthquake.

As seen in Figure 3, floods and droughts were the most prevalent and impactful type of disasters on the continent. From 2000-2019, floods were responsible for 64% of disaster events, followed by storms at 15%. Unlike other continents, such as Asia, earthquakes and volcanoes are not prominent types of disasters. As well, due to relatively poor health surveillance, the impacts of extreme temperatures are considered to be under reported.

So far in this century, droughts have been the deadliest disaster type, followed by floods. In fact, most of the drought deaths can be attributed to a single event, namely the one in Somalia in 2010 when approximately 20,000 people died. This drought, along with the Somali Civil War, lead to a famine declaration due to high mortality and malnutrition.

In terms of people affected, droughts make up by far the largest share of disasters in Africa. This figure may be attributed to various climatic and geographic features, as well as the reliance on rain-fed agriculture by large portion of the population in low resource rural areas. The most impactful drought events so far this century by number of people affected were the 2003 and 2004 South African drought (15 million & 12.6 million people affected respectively), 2015 Ethiopian drought (10.2 million people affected), and 2009 Niger drought (7.9 million people affected).

In recent years the share of global events, deaths, and people affected occurring in Africa has risen; as seen in figure 4.

This trend will likely continue as Africa’s share of the global population rises from approximately 13% in the year 2000 to 26% by 2050 (1). In absolute terms, the population of Africa is projected to increase from the current 1.3 billion inhabitants to 2.5 billion by 2050, thus nearly doubling the potential population affected by disasters (1). Additionally, rapid growth in population increases the likelihood of urbanization in areas exposed to natural hazards and resource shortages. In addition to population growth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2) has stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced more frequent and intense climate extremes in previous decades as a result of climate change, a trend that is likely to continue as the impacts of climate change intensifies. Regions across the continent are expected to face increased extreme temperatures, droughts, and increases in heavy rainfall (2).