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659: Natural Disaster

The year 2000 could, arguably, have been considered a disaster. At least, depending on how you want to define things. If you follow the definition of the CRED International Disaster Database — quote:

“Drought, floods, biological epidemics, extreme weather, extreme temperature, landslides, dry mass movements, extraterrestrial impacts, wildfires, volcanic activity, and earthquakes”

Then the year 2000 had the most natural disasters on record for the last 117 years. 1900 to 1948 saw less than 20 disasters reported per year. Then the chart begins a near-vertical climb. 143 in 1977. 296 in 1990. 526 in the year 2000. Then quote-unquote down to 291 in 2017.

Now, to be entirely fair, record-keeping of events that were happening around the world may not have been quite so amazing in 1900, but no matter how you slice it, natural disasters have a big impact on the people that are in their path.

The same data source reports 3.71 million deaths from natural disasters in 1931. In the year 2000, even with the high number of disasters, 16,667 individuals were recorded as having died from natural disasters.

The impacts of natural disasters, however, are not proportionally distributed. Quoting from a Brookings Institution report:

On 10 December 1988, an earthquake registering 6.9 on the Richter scale hit Armenia, killing some 55,000 people and leaving 500,000 homeless. Less than a year later, in October 1989, an even stronger earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale, hit San Francisco, California, killing 62 and leaving 12,000 homeless.[2] Within countries, it is almost always the poor and marginalized who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters. They tend to live in less safe environments and in less safe shelter.

Economics aren’t the only factor in the impact of disasters, though. More and more people are moving to coastlines and ecologically fragile environments, which increases the impact of the disasters too. As TIME put it:

What’s changed is what we’ve put in storms’ way. Crowding together in coastal cities puts us at risk on a few levels. First, it is harder for us to evacuate before a storm because of gridlock. Secondly, even if we get everyone to safety, we still have more stuff in harm’s way than ever before. So each big hurricane costs more than the big one before it, even controlling for inflation. But the most insidious effect of building condos and industry along water is that we are systematically stripping coasts of the protection that used to cushion the blow of extreme weather.