Weather-related disasters: past, present and future

25-07-2012 | Publication

Disasters such as floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts may have serious implications for human health and the economic development of countries. One of the main findings of this report is that disaster burdens are dominated by economic and demographic developments, rather than climate change. Furthermore, disaster burden appears to be spread unequally over rich and poor countries.

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. This report places severe disaster consequences in a statistical context, as part the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050. Analyses were performed using the CRED database EM-DAT.

Disaster burden depends on the economic region chosen

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% of global total), 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%). BRIICS countries are Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa.

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.

Disaster burden will increase in the coming decades

Studies on disaster burdens in the future are sparse, and mainly focus on storms and floods. Case studies 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 ‘value at risk’, results were compared between 2010 and 2050, providing the following indication of growth: around 130% for the OECD countries, around 650% for the BRIICS countries and around 430% for the remaining countries.