Worldwide Disaster Relief Response

According to a recent Brookings Institute study,with 302 disasters recorded in EM-DAT, 2011 saw the lowest number of disasters since the beginning of the millennium. The number of disasters was almost 20 percent below the average annual figure of 384 natural disasters from 2001-2010. Beyond simply counting the number of disasters in a given year, there are of course various ways to measure the impact of disasters, including the number of deaths, the number of people affected, and economic losses.

Based on most statistical indicators, 2011 was a below average year in terms of the impact of natural disasters. While there were almost 30,000 disaster fatalities (not including the Horn of Africa drought and famine), this figure is well below the average annual figure in the past decade. There were 206 million disaster-affected persons in 2011, which is about ten percent below the ten-year average. The main statistical outlier in 2011 is disaster damage; because of a spate of major disasters in the developed world, all historic records were shattered with estimates of total losses ranging between $366 billion (EM-DAT) and $380 billion (Munich Re) for disaster damage in 2011. See table below.

In 2011, EM-DAT registered 138 floods, 79 storms, 30 earthquakes (this category includes tsunamis), 18 wet mass movements, 16 droughts, eleven extreme temperature events, four wild fires, and six volcanic eruptions. Compared to the ten-year average, only earthquakes were more frequent, with 30 occurring in 2011 compared to the average for the decade of 28. Volcanic eruptions and drought disasters were in line with the average, while all other disaster categories were below average. Wildfires were down by two-thirds (4/12), extreme temperatures were down by 50 percent (11/22), storms were down to 76 percent of the average (79/104), and floods were down to approximately 79 percent of the ten year average (138/175). See graph below.

According to EM-DAT statistics, 266 out of the 302 recorded disasters (88 percent) in 2011 were climatological or hydro-meteorological disasters. The 138 floods reported in 2011 affected more than 106 million people and killed more than 5,200. This is almost exactly the same as the average number of people affected every year by floods during the 2001-2010period and slightly below the annual average mortality rate from floods. As mentioned above, floods were the most frequent disaster in 2011 (as they were in 2010), accounting for over 45 percent of total disasters recorded by EM-DAT. 2011 was a relatively benign year for storms, with 79 storms recorded as disasters. In comparison, an average of 104 storms was reported during the 2001–2010 period. And although 33 million people were affected by storms in 2011, they caused 3,076 casualties, far fewer than the average of 17,236 per year over the last
decade.

In December 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), highlighting some of the latest scientific evidence on the nexus between climate change and extreme events.

Looking forward, the report predicts a high probability for a rise in the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves over most land areas. It also predicts an increase in heavy precipitation and a rise in the percentage of heavy rainfalls among total rainfall as likely within the 21st century. In terms of tropical cyclones it suggests a rise in average storm speeds is likely (although it might not occur in all ocean basins), while storm frequencies will likely decrease or remain stable. Changes in rainfall and temperature imply possible changes in floods but projections are at this point only of low confidence both because the evidence is limited and the causes of regional alterations are often complex. Rising sea levels on the other hand make it very likely that extreme coastal high waters will occur in the future. The report also points out that there is high confidence that changes in heat waves, glacial retreat and/or permafrost degradation will affect high mountain phenomena such as slope instabilities, wet

mass movements and glacial lake outburst floods. There is also high confidence that changes in heavy precipitation will affect landslides in some regions.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the warmest 13 years of average global temperatures have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997, contributing to more frequent extreme weather events. 2011 was predicted to be the tenth hottest year on record and the hottest year ever during a La Niña episode, during which global temperatures are on average cooler than in non-La Niña years. There is no conclusive scientific evidence about the interrelationship between El Niño/La Niña episodes and climate change, but there are hypotheses that more frequent occurrence of those phenomena could be connected to globally warming temperatures.

In short, 2011 was a fairly “typical” year and in general, the world should expect these types of numbers to continue if not get worse in the indefinite future. In a “typical” year more than 90 percent of natural disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries, where poverty and lack of resources exacerbate the suffering. Many of these countries are unable to prepare for disasters before they happen and are unable to respond quickly when they do. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the developing world to prepare for and respond to these disasters annually.

Disaster Relief Unit