| Welcome to Global Village Space

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Why is there an increase in natural disasters worldwide?

The costs of natural disasters have risen dramatically over the last decades. Besides the escalating climate crisis, this rise in costs is largely explained by urbanization in exposed, often flood-prone, areas. After the floods, storms were the second most frequently recorded disaster, with 121 events recorded in EM-DAT in 2021. The number of reported storms was also above the 2001-2020 average, as there were 102 recorded per year.

In 2021, the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) recorded 432 natural disasters worldwide. In the published report, EM-DAT, which depends on the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, states that in 2021 natural disasters produced 10,492 deaths, affected 101.8 million people and caused economic losses of approximately 252.1 billion people. dollars (about 234,050 million euros). In 2021, a total of 432 catastrophic events were recorded, which is considerably higher than the average of 357 annual natural disasters that was in the 2001-2020 series. That is to say: 2021 had 75 more natural disasters than the average of the last 20 years.

The natural disaster that stood out in 2021 was the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands -which lasted from September to December- and it is the costliest volcanic disaster reported in EM-DAT in the last 20 years, with economic losses estimated at almost billion euros.

Read more: World Bank approves $300 mn for Pakistan’s natural disasters, health sector

As a continent, Asia was the most severely affected, suffering 40% of all-natural disaster events and accounting for 49% of the total number of deaths and 66% of the total number of people affected. Globally, while the number of deaths and the number of people affected were below their 20-year averages, 2021 was marked by an increase in the number of disasters and large economic losses. Five of the ten most economically costly disasters in 2021 occurred in the United States and had a total economic cost of 112,500 million dollars (104,065 million euros)

Floods and storms on the rise

Floods dominated these events, with 223, compared to an average of 163 annual floods recorded during the period 2001-2020. During its monsoon season (June to September), India experienced a series of deadly floods that claimed 1,282 lives. In July, the Henan flood in China was particularly severe, resulting in 352 deaths, 14.5 million people affected, and a cost of $16.5 billion. In the same month, the Nuristan floods in Afghanistan resulted in 260 deaths. In July, the Central European floods and subsequent landslides generated economic costs of 40,000 million dollars in Germany alone and ranked as the second-costliest disaster.

After the floods, storms were the second most frequently recorded disaster, with 121 events recorded in EM-DAT in 2021. The number of reported storms was also above the 2001-2020 average, as there were 102 recorded per year. Notably, Typhoon Rai, which hit the Philippines in December, caused at least 457 deaths and affected 10.6 million people. In April, tropical cyclone Seroja, which passed through Indonesia, claimed 226 lives. In early February, the North American winter storm killed at least 235 people and cost more than $30 billion. others severe storms that affected the US in 2021 were Hurricane Ida, which caused 96 deaths and $65 billion in economic costs, and the December tornadoes, which caused 93 deaths and $5.2 billion in economic costs.

Read more: Weather disasters caused $170b damage in 2021

Cold and heat waves

Unlike floods and storms, relatively few extreme temperature events (three in total ) were recorded in 2021 compared to 21 events per year on average between 2001 and 2020. However, the consequences of these extreme temperature events were considerable. In early April, a cold snap hit France, causing significant agricultural damage, particularly to vineyards, amounting to US$5.6 billion in losses. The western North American heatwave in June and July 2021 resulted in sharp spikes in excess mortality leading to an estimated death toll of 815 deaths in Canada and 229 deaths in the US. These latest heatwave events occurred in conjunction with wildfires.

Overall, there were a high number of wildfires in 2021 (19 major events) compared to the 2001-2020 average of 11 per year. This is largely attributed to a series of fires in the Mediterranean region during the summer, which affected several countries (Algeria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Tunisia and Turkey). The deadliest forest fire occurred in Algeria with 90 deaths. In late 2021, the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado caused up to $3.3 billion in economic damage. This makes it the e9th most severe natural disaster in 2021 in terms of economic losses in EM-DAT.

In addition to heatwaves, the western US experienced persistent drought in 2021, resulting in a total economic cost of $9 billion. Globally, 15 major droughts were reported. Africa (South Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya) and Asia (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran) were the most catastrophic in terms of the number of people affected. Calculating the exact number of people affected or killed by droughts is a challenge; Drought events are often associated with complex emergencies involving multiple and compounding threats (for example, food shortages, the Covid-19 pandemic, political instability, economic crises, or human, livestock, or crop disease). In addition, the interaction between several of these factors can affect exposure, vulnerability and the ability to cope with the crisis.

Read more: Op-ed: Monsoon disasters just a trailer of climate change storm that lies ahead for Pakistan


In 2021, EM-DAT reported 28 earthquakes, in line with the 2001-2020 average of 27 events. However, the number of deaths and people affected by earthquakes, as well as the global economic damages, were lower in 2021 than the average of the last 20 years. This is due to the absence of mega earthquakes in 2021. Despite this, the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Haiti, which occurred in August, still ranks first as the deadliest disaster in EM-DAT in 2021, causing 2,575 deaths. In addition, the Fukushima earthquake in February (magnitude 7.1) also appears among the 10 costliest disasters according to EM-DAT in 2021, causing economic costs estimated at 7.7 billion dollars.

Read more: Japan disasters highlight vulnerable infrastructure

Other geophysical hazards (volcanic activity, mass movements) and hydrological hazards (landslides) had a low occurrence in 2021 and resulted in relatively minor human and economic losses compared to other types of disasters recorded in EM-DAT. However, in April, a composite event triggered by an avalanche of rocks and ice resulted in a deadly mass flow in the state of Uttarakhand (Himalayas, India). In addition to causing significant damage to hydroelectric infrastructure, the number of people killed or missing was approximately 234, making it one of the ten deadliest events in 2021.


The writer is a Journalist based in an Indian-occupied Kashmir and Media fellow at NFI India. He writes about the environment-related issues, Climate Change in South Aisa. He can be reached at bwahid32@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.