PBL analyses human and economic consequences of disasters
Disasters such as floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts may have serious implications for human health and the economic development of countries. PBL has analysed these types of severe disasters in a statistical context, as part the ‘OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050’. One of its main findings is that historical disaster burdens are dominated by economic and demographic developments, rather than climate change. Furthermore, disaster burden appears to be distributed unequally over rich and poor regions; economic losses are highest in the rich countries (OECD), the number of people affected is highest in upcoming economies (BRIICS) and the number of people killed is highest in the remaining, poor countries.
The PBL report ‘A statistical study of weather-related disasters - Past, present and future’ focuses on disasters following weather extremes and the impacts thereof. Examples of severe disaster impacts are the drought in Ethiopia and Sudan in 1983, which caused over 400,000 people to die of starvation; drought in India and floods in China in 2002, which affected 450 million people, and Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding in the United States in 2005, which led to economic damages valued at USD 140 billion.
Disaster data were extracted from the CRED database EM-DAT, for the 1980–2010 period. First, disasters were subdivided into three groups: meteorological disasters (tropical and extra-tropical storms, local storms), hydrological disasters (coastal and fluvial floods), and climatological disasters (droughts, temperature extremes). Following this subdivision, statistics were calculated for three regions: the OECD countries (the rich countries), the BRIICS countries (the emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa) and the remaining (poor) countries. Finally, three types of disaster burdens were considered: economic losses, the number of people affected by disasters, and the number of people killed.
Disaster burden appears to depend strongly on the economic region chosen, showing a characteristic pattern: the highest economic losses occur in the OECD countries (63%), the largest number of people affected occurs in the BRIICS countries (84%), and the largest number of people killed occurs in the remaining countries (77%).
State-of-the-art estimates for trends in disaster burdens show that these burdens have increased enormously over the 1980–2010 period. For example, economic losses in OECD countries have grown by a factor of 4.4. However, all but one trend pattern show that disaster burdens increased in the first half of the sample period (1980–1995) and have stabilised thereafter.
Studies on disaster burdens in the future are sparse, and mainly focus on storms and floods. Case studies for individual countries indicate that economic losses due to disasters will increase over the 2010–2040 period. This increase, for a large part, may be explained by a growing world population and increasing wealth, and to a lesser extent by climate change. Results are presented from a PBL study on flood disasters, and show that the number of ‘people at risk’ is expected to increase between 2010 and 2050 for all regions: by 9% in OECD countries, by 37% in BRIICS countries and by 55% in the remaining countries. For potential economic damage, results were compared between 2010 and 2050, providing the following indication of growth: 130% for the OECD countries, 650% for the BRIICS countries and 430% for the remaining countries.
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