The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019 Report

Context: Climate change is largely to blame for a near doubling of natural disasters in the past 20 years, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) said in a new report entitled “The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019”.


  • UNDRR report was published to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 13, 2020.
  • The statistics in this report are from the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) which records disasters which have:
  1. Killed ten or more people;
  2. Affected 100 or more people;
  3. Resulted in a declared state of emergency; or
  4. A call for international assistance.
  • For the purposes of this report, the term “disaster” is reserved for natural hazard-related disasters, excluding biological and technological disasters.

Major Findings

  • The sharp increase was largely attributable to a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events like floods, drought and storms.
  • The report did not touch on biological hazards and disease-related disasters like the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The last twenty years has seen the number of major floods more than double.
  • Floods (most common type of disaster) and storms (second most common type of disaster) were the most prevalent events (44% and 28% respectively).
  • The report “The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019” also records major increases in other categories including drought, wildfires and extreme temperature events.
  • EM-DAT classifies disasters according to the type of hazard that provokes them.
  • Hydrological disasters were the most common events between 2000 and 2019.
  • There has also been a rise in geo-physical events including earthquakes and tsunamis which have killed more people than any of the other natural hazards under review in this report.
  • Asia suffered the highest number of disaster events between 2000 and 2019, followed by the Americas and Africa.
  • The high frequency and impact of disasters in Asia is largely due to the size of the continent and landscapes that represent a high risk of natural hazards, such as river basins, flood plains, and seismic fault lines.
  • Additionally, there are high population densities in many disaster-prone areas of the continent.
  • Overall, eight of the top 10 countries by disaster events are in Asia.
  • In terms of affected countries globally, China followed by U.S., India, Philippines, and Indonesia reported the highest number of disaster events.
  • These countries all have large and heterogenous landmasses and relatively high population densities in at-risk areas.
  • However, compared to China, the U.S. has fewer geophysical and hydrological events, and more meteorological and climatological events, such as storms and wildfires.
  • China and India typically dominate the list of countries by impacts in absolute numbers, largely due to their massive populations.
  • Together, the two nations account for approximately 70% of the global total of disaster-affected (not killed) people. 
  • Three mega disasters occurred in the period 2000-2019: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
  • A mega-disaster is an event that kills more than 100,000 people.
  • In the past 20 years, the largest single event by death toll was the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which was triggered by a 9.1 Richter earthquake, and resulted in the deaths of 226,400 people in twelve Asian and African countries.
  • The largest death tolls were in Indonesia, followed by Sri Lanka.
  • It is followed by the Haiti earthquake (2010), Cyclone Nargis.
  • Drought affects Africa more than any other continent.

Counting the Economic Cost

  • EM-DAT recorded losses totalling US$ 2.97 trillion from recorded disasters between 2000 and 2019.
  • Storms cost more than any other disaster type in terms of recorded economic damage, followed by floods. 
  • Economic losses compared to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results in a stark difference between income groups.
  • Despite accounting for most the world’s economic losses, high-income countries have the lowest level of losses as a percentage of GDP.
  • Contrastingly, low-income countries had the highest level of losses compared to GDP, 3x higher than high-income countries.


  • The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction was established in 1999.
  • It supports the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
  • UNDRR and partners produce the biennial Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction which provides evidence for the integration of disaster risk reduction into private investment decision-making and public policy in urban, environmental, social and economic sectors.
  • UNDRR also coordinates the Making Cities Resilient CampaignARISE private sector network and supports governments in the implementation and monitoring of the Sendai Framework.
  1. ARISE, the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, is a network of private sector entities led by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
  2. Members voluntarily commit to support and implement the Sendai Framework Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030, aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris Climate Agreement, New Urban Agenda and Agenda for Humanity.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030

  • The Sendai Framework is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognizes that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk, but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local governments, the private sector, the scientific community and NGOs.
  • It aims for a substantial reduction in disaster losses resulting from both man-made and natural hazards.
  • It marks a shift in emphasis from disaster management to disaster risk management.
  • It lists priority areas for action such as
  1. Understanding disaster risk,
  2. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk,
  3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and
  4. To “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
  • The Sendai Framework’s seven Targets focus on substantial reductions in:
  • (a) disaster mortality,
  • (b) number of affected people,
  • (c) direct economic losses and
  • (d) reducing damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services.
  • The Sendai Framework also seeks a substantial increase in:
  • (e) national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020,
  • (f) enhanced cooperation to developing countries, and
  • (g) a substantial increase in multi-hazard early warning systems, disaster risk information and assessments.
  • The seven targets of the Sendai Framework as well as its related dimensions are reflected in three Sustainable Development Goals:
  • 1, Poverty Eradication;
  • 11, Sustainable Cities; and
  • 13, Climate Action.
  • Strong accountability is one of the corner stones of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • The Sendai Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters.

There are some major departures in the Sendai Framework:

  • For the first time the goals are defined in terms of outcome-based targets instead of focusing on sets of activities and actions.
  • It places governments at the center of disaster risk reduction with the framework emphasizing the need to strengthen the disaster risk governance.
  • There is significant shift from earlier emphasis on disaster management to addressing disaster risk management itself by focusing on the underlying drivers of risk.
  • It places almost equal importance on all kinds of disasters and not only on those arising from natural hazards.
  • Disaster risk reduction, more than before, is seen as a policy concern that cuts across many sectors, including health and education.

Goal 11 Of SDGs and the New Urban Agenda

  • Goal 11 of SDGs which talks about ‘making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’, targets that “by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management”. 
  • The New Urban Agenda was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016.
  • It was also endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly later.
  • The New Urban Agenda represents a shared vision for a better and more sustainable future.
  • If well-planned and well-managed, urbanization can be a powerful tool for sustainable development for both developing and developed countries.

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