UCL indexes natural disasters

Research UCL – 10 December, International Climate Day - press release

2017: fewer disasters but more cost damages, reports researchers of University of Louvain (UCL)

EMDAT is an international reference database, which monitors human and economic impacts of disasters for 184 countries from 1900 until today. It is maintained by the “Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters – CRED” of the University of Louvain (UCL), headed by Prof. Debarati Guha-Sapir. The EMDAT database provides authoritative data on climate extremes for international bodies such as the European Space Agency, GIEC and the UNFCCC or UN FAO.

The EMDAT database (International Disaster Database) reports much lower numbers of victims (total deaths + total affected) compared to the annual average of the last two decades. There is approximately a decrease of about 30% in the number of incidents. 2017 has been a very clement year in terms of disaster related deaths and affected with a third or less people victimized by these climate-related hazards globally. In contrast, the cost of economic damages globally has seen an annual increase of 40% compared to the past two decades (1997-2016). EMDAT records reveal a minimum loss of 140 billion US$ of economic losses in 2017, mainly due to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These events occurred mainly in the United States of America and the Carribean.
Remark: as these are preliminary data on economic losses, they will be adjusted shortly, as better data is available.
To note: high economic losses are usually the consequence of disasters that occurred in wealthier countries where asset values are higher.

The natural disaster that showed an increase in 2017 compared to previous decades were:

  • Wet landslides, which are a climate-related phenomena. A major landslide event occurred in Sierra Leone in August 2017, with almost 1,000 confirmed dead or missing. The landslide occurred in the urban area of Freetown as a consequence of heavy rainfall, aggravated by poor drainage and very low or below sea level altitudes ;
  • Wildfires were also a dominating disaster in 2017, reporting nearly double the number of deaths compared to the past two decades (1997-2016). However, due to incomplete data for 2017, UCL will report the final figures in early 2018. For example, the ongoing wildfires in California have not been taken into consideration in this report ;
  • The top five disasters with the greatest number of victims have been floods and landslides ;
  • India and Cuba were the two countries most severely hit by floods and storms, each affecting more than 10 million people. Overall, floods and droughts were the most hazardous, resulting in the highest impact on populations ;
  • The storms in the Caribbean and Southern USA have been the disasters with the greatest economic impact in 2017 ;
  • Landslides have characterised this year with twice as many events compared to the last two decades (1997-2016)

On the bright side of the 2017 data interpretation, the EMDAT team suggests that the enormous global effort put forward for disaster preparedness and prevention may have had some effect on lessening the burden of natural disasters in the world.
Note: For 2017, data must be interpreted with caution as they are preliminary and still require validation or updating after 30th November 2017.

Infomation : www.cred.be
Contact (Press) : Regina Below, researcher at the UCL Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster (CRED) : 02 764 33 27 or mobile on request
Debarati Guha-Sapir, YCL CRED Coordinator : 02 764 33 70 ou mobile en request

Published on December 11, 2017