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Natural disasters: How much do they cost?

Wildfire at night. Natural disasters concept.
Natural disasters such as bushfires in Australia have captivated global attention.

In an era of climate change driving extreme weather patterns, natural disasters seem to be becoming the norm. Indeed, recent months have seen the eyes of the world captivated by wildfires ravaging Australia – the country’s worst in decades.

India is no stranger to environmental catastrophes and extreme weather patterns, witnessing calamities ranging from heatwaves to wildfires to dust storms to intensive flooding. The lattermost, last year, resulted in swathes of the country submerged. A new report has unveiled the global cost of natural disasters, pegging the figure at US$232 billion (Rs 16.5 lakh crore) in 2019. 

The overwhelming majority of the cost was accounted for by weather-related catastrophes, which incurred a loss of US$229 billion to the global economy last year. The 2017-19 period proved to be the three consecutive costliest years in terms of weather-related natural disasters, with typhoons, flooding, and hurricanes leading the pack as the most expensive calamities to afflict the world. 

Keralites survey the damage sustained during flooding. Typhoons, flooding, and hurricanes led the pack as the most expensive environmental disasters to to afflict the world in 2019.

India witnessed its heaviest monsoon rains in 25 years, it was reported in October. In fact, monsoon rains in India were identified as the deadliest of all disasters last year. According to the report, the June-October rains killed approximately 1,750 people, whilst incurring an economic loss of US$10 billion – the seventh costliest of all natural disasters last year. Other severe weather events in India, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulted in 146 deaths – the seventh-deadliest weather events. Such events incurred an economic loss of US$75 million. Cyclone Fani, which struck India and Bangladesh, resulted in 81 deaths and economic losses of US8.1 billion – making the storm the tenth costliest of 2019’s natural disasters.

In total, the world recorded at least 409 individual natural disasters – above both the average and median since 2000 of 374 and 375 respectively. The cost of natural disasters stood at US$2.98 trillion for the 2010-19 decade – US$1.1 trillion higher than the preceding decade. In 2018, it was reported that, in the preceding decade, India alone lost US$79.5 billion to natural disasters. 

The coming decades promise increased environmental instability and, consequently, a growing burden of disease, destruction, mortality, and disruption owing to natural disasters. Climate change poses an environmental and public health emergency of staggering magnitude. As the latest report shows, India is far from immune to such effects – it is highly susceptible.

The report can be accessed here.

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