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Disaster trends

While the number of deaths resulting from natural disasters has decreased, since the 1960s the number affected by natural disasters has risen significantly (Ritchie and Roser 2019). A key resource on natural disaster trends is the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT).

Graph of natural disaster numbers by type from 1998-2017. 43.4% from flooding with 3,148 in number, 28.2% from storm with 2,049, 7.8% from earthquake with 563, 5.6% from extreme temperature with 405, 5.2% from landslide with 378, 4.8% from drought with 347, 3.5% from wildfire with 254, 1.4% from volcano with 99, 0.2% from mass movement with 12.

(Adapted from Wallemacq 2018: 7)

Data from 1900 to the present day can be found in the database but the consistent reporting of disasters was only started after 1988 when the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) launched EM-DAT. Hence, care must be taken in extrapolating the data over historical time periods and the apparent trend may have a number of causes.

A limitation on the use of EM-DAT data is that it reports on only three parameters: mortality, numbers of people affected and economic losses. The criteria for registering disasters are 10 or more fatalities, 100 or more people affected, and a declaration of a state of emergency or a call for international assistance. Hence, only medium-to-large-scale disasters are included. This means many smaller ‘everyday disasters’ are missed and cumulatively these can contribute significantly to total disaster losses.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) draws on recent EM-DAT data to help produce its annual World Disasters Report. The report presents disaster trends in recent years, identifying the types of disasters and their impact.

Your task

What do you think has led to the trend of decreasing deaths but increasing numbers affected?


Ritchie, H., and Roser, M. (2019) ‘Natural Disasters’. OurWorldinData [online]. available from https://ourworldindata.org/natural-disasters [19 August 2019]

Wallemacq, P. (2018) ‘Economic Losses, Poverty and Disasters: 1998-2017’. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, CRED [online]. available from https://www.undrr.org/publication/economic-losses-poverty-disasters-1998-2017 [17 March 2020]

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This article is from the free online course:

Community Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience: An Introduction

Coventry University