The disaster files – 2017

The numbers are in

How disastrous was 2017?

Thankfully, it was not a record year—the long term trend in the number of reported disasters is actually slightly downward.

The human impact of natural disasters was much lower than the last 10 year average, when events with extremely high mortality occurred—such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (225,570 deaths), and the 2018 Nargis cyclone in Myanmar (138,400 deaths).

Last year, there was no single major event responsible for the increased mortality. However, 2017 was second costliest year on record–mainly due to the three hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria that devastated many Caribbean islands and caused enormous damage in the US.

Weather related disasters were responsible for the majority of both human and economic losses. Nearly 60% of people affected by the disasters were affected by floods, while 85% of economic damages were due to storms—mainly from the three hurricanes cited above.  The chart below is from the just released CRED Crunch bulletin.


The red bars indicate the four most costly disasters over the years since 1990, while the green line shows the trend line for the number of events. This chart doesn’t show fatalities—which is why the Haitian earthquake and cyclone Nargis don’t show up.

In terms of fatalities and people affected, countries with large populations tend to head up the list: India, China, Bangladesh, and Iran.

But when you look a little deeper, some disturbing numbers come to light.

Small islands suffer disproportionately–and mostly in silence.

In terms of the number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, eight of the top ten worst affected countries are small islands:  Dominica tops the list followed by St Barthelemy, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, and US Virgin Islands.

And when we look at the economic impact of these disasters, in the top-10 worst affected countries measured as a percentage of GDP, we find Sint Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos islands, Puerto Rico Dominica, Anguilla and Barbuda, Macau, Cuba, and St Kitts & Nevis.

The numbers are shown in the tables below.

The scale of the damage caused by last year’s hurricanes is astonishing : the small Dutch Island of Sint Maarten lost the equivalent of 812% of its GDP due to Hurricane Irma.

These data show that when the number of people affected by disasters and the economic impact are evaluated at the scale of the country concerned, small islands are hugely and devastatingly impacted.

Small islands can’t just pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back to work. When hurricanes and cyclones damage power plants and destroy the electrical distribution systems–as they did in most of these islands, the impact on the island population is devastating.

The island of Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from hurricane Maria in September 2017.  Many areas of the island are still without electricity. And without electrical power to hospitals and homes with older or infirm residents, people die.  These fatalities don’t get counted because they occur later–after the storm has passed.

Many of the islands named in the table above are members of the group of 51 countries called the Small Island Developing States—the SIDS.

Twenty two of the SIDS are in the Caribbean, 20 in the Pacific Ocean, and the other nine are dotted around the tropics.  Not all of SIDS are in fact islands : Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Singapore are in the group.  But these countries all have numerous offshore islands included in their territories.

The SIDS are all hugely vulnerable to the extreme weather brought on by the changing climate. Other problems are more insidious:  the islands’ coral reefs are bleaching out as the oceans warm; rising sea levels overwash coastal zones turning agricultural land saline and contaminating ground water supplies.

The islands in the Pacific are the most vulnerable because many are low-lying coral islands: Kiribati, the Maldives, and the Marshall Islands are all facing existential threats.

The international commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases tend to focus on the big emitters: China, the USA, India—and the other large countries.

But the countries that are really on the front line are the small islands States.


Under the hood:

To learn more about the small island developing states go here :

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