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CRED Crunch Newsletter, Issue No. 62 (May 2021) - Disaster Year in Review 2020: Global Trends and Perspectives

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In 2020, 389 natural disasters were reported in EMDAT killing 15,080 people, affecting 98.4 million others and costing 171.3 billion US$. The year 2020 rivalled 2016 as the world’s hottest recorded year despite the absence of a strong El Niño effect. Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, the year was dominated by climate-related disasters.

In comparison to the previous two decades (2000-2019), 2020 had a higher impact in terms of number of recorded events and economic losses (US$ 151.6 billion). There were considerably fewer deaths compared to the annual average of 61,709 and fewer people directly affected compared to the annual average of 201.3 million people. This decrease in impacts is due to the absence of mass casualty events, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (227,000 deaths) and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake (222,500 deaths) or high impact events, such as the 2015/2016 drought in India (330 million people affected). However, in 2020 there were 26% more storms than the annual average of 102 events, 23% more floods than the annual average of 163 events, and 18% more flood deaths than the annual average of 5,233 deaths (Fig.1)

The impacts of the events were not equally shared: Asia experienced 41% of disaster events and 64% of total people affected. Heatwaves in Europe accounted for 42% of total reported deaths. In a year of record-breaking storms and wildfires the Americas suffered 53% of total economic losses, largely in the USA which experienced the bulk of the year’s most costly climate-related disasters. Indonesia had the highest number of disasters (29 total events), including 25 floods. However, India and China suffered the largest human impacts with 19.6 million people and 14.9 million people affected, respectively. Floods were the most common disasters worldwide (201 events), while storms affected the highest number of people (45.5 million) and caused the most economic losses (US$ 92.7 billion). Extreme temperatures were the deadliest type of disasters accounting for 42% of total deaths, followed closely by floods which accounted for 41% of total deaths. Summer heat waves in Europe (France, Belgium and the Netherlands) were the deadliest events for the 2nd year in a row with a total of 6,340 deaths.

The impact of floods was felt heavily throughout Africa and Asia. In Africa, floods affected 7 million people and caused 1,273 deaths, the highest figure since 2006. In South Asia, monsoon flooding, often associated with landslides, affected 5.4 million people in Bangladesh and caused 448 deaths in Nepal. In India, flooding was responsible for the 3rd deadliest event of the year costing 1,922 lives. China also faced significant flooding as a series of four summer floods across the country killed a total of 397 people, affected 14.3 million people, and caused US$ 21.8 billion in economic losses.