In 2017, 335 natural disasters affected over 95.6 million people, killing an additional 9,697 and costing a total of US $335 billion. This burden was not shared equally, as Asia seemed to be the most vulnerable continent for floods and storms, with 44% of all disaster events, 58% of the total deaths, and 70% of the total people affected.
Despite this, the Americas reported the highest economic losses, representing 88% of the total cost from 93 disasters. China, U.S., and India were the hardest hit countries in terms of occurrence with 25, 20, and 15 events respectively. Given the large land mass of each country, these results are not surprising.
Compared to the previous decade (2007-2016), there were fewer natural disasters, deaths, and total people affected in 2017, but with a higher price tag. Number of natural disasters in 2017 were similar to the annual average of 354 events, below the average of 68,273 killed per year, and well below the 210 million annual average people affected. In terms of economic losses however, there was a 49% increase than the previous average of $141 billion.1 After 2011, characterized by a devastating earthquake/ tsunami in Japan, 2017 was the most expensive year in the decade due to a series of powerful hurricanes across the U.S. and the Caribbean. These include Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria, costing $95 billion, $80.7 billion, and $69.7 billion respectively. When looking at types of events, 2017 was characterized by a higher number of reported storms with 127 compared to the annual 98 average. Similar patterns were seen with wildfires, with 15 compared to the annual 9 average, and landslides, with 25 compares to the annual 17 average.
Mortality is quite low compared to the annual average of the last decade of 68,273. This is likely due to three events with very high mortality: the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (222,500 deaths); the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (138,000 deaths); and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (87,000 deaths). The deadliest event in 2017 was the landslide in Sierra Leone in August, with 1,102 reported dead or missing, followed by Cyclone Okchi in December with 884 reported dead or missing in India and 27 deaths in Sri Lanka. Notably, these two events are characterized by a high number of missing, representing over half of the total death toll.
Specifically for the African and American continents, the 2017 mortality is higher than the 10 years average due to the occurrence of the landslide, earthquake (mentioned below), and hurricanes. These figures do not consider the revised death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico from 64 deaths to 4,645 excess deaths,2 or more recently 2,975 excess deaths.3 Additionally, although the total affected, 95.6 million, is well below the yearly average of the last decade of 210 million, Africa and the Americas have a greater proportion of people affected than the yearly average.
In terms of disaster events reported, the year was characterized by a record hurricane season with heavy losses, both economic and human, with at least 340 dead or missing for the 3 main hurricanes: Irma, Maria, and Harvey. In addition to hurricanes, losses were also seen as a result of two major earthquakes: one in September in Mexico with 369 fatalities and one in November in Iran/ Iraq with at least 450 fatalities. Additionally, two strong wildfires in Portugal contributed to the human cost, with 64 fatalities in June and 45 fatalities in October. A single flood killed 834 people and affected almost 27 million people in August in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and in China, 12 million were affected by a flood during the Mei-Yu season.
The data reported above suggest an emerging trend in natural disaster events demonstrating lower mortality but higher cost.