The 2001-2010 ten-year review of natural catastrophes worldwide

During the last thirty years, it is the 2001-2010 decade which reported the deadliest and most expensive natural catastrophes. A study conducted by the firm Ubyrisk Consultants has revealed that 7 563 events occurred in the world during the past decade, causing the death of 1 244 230 people and more than 1023 billion USD of damages.

The 2001-2010 decade is:

  • 7 563 events
  • 1.2 million victims
  • 1 023 billion USD of damages
  • 327 billion USD of claims paid by insurers

Number and types of catastrophes

Photo credit: NASADevastating tsunamis, major hurricanes and typhoons, intense floods, destructive earthquakes, extreme heat waves and wildfires, etc are among the events that have marked the past decade, at an average rate of 756 hazards per year. Since the peak of 905 claims, reached in 2007, the trend has been decreasing. The past five years, however, accounted for almost 60% of the decade’s claims.

A typological analysis of these catastrophes shows that floods account for 1 822 events, that is, nearly a quarter of the total claims. Forest fires come second with 893 claims (that is, 12% of overall losses), followed by storms (819 events, that is, nearly 11% of all claims).

Nearly 66.5% of catastrophes are of atmospheric origin, 16.2% of geological origin and 17.3% of mixed origins (fires, avalanches, ...).

Geographical distribution of catastrophes

In terms of frequency, it is the Asian continent that records the largest number of catastrophes, that is, 2 250 events, followed by the American continent with 2 118 events and Europe with 2 005 hazards.

An extremely deadly decade

The past decade has been extremely deadly with an average of 124 423 victims per year. An inter-annual comparison shows that most casualties were sustained in 2010 with 391 017 deaths. This catastrophic toll is due to the earthquake of Haiti and the heat wave in Russia. With 11 852 deaths, the year 2009 was the least deadly since it has not experienced major catastrophes.

Number of events and victims per continent between 2001 and 2010
 Nomber of eventsShare in %Number of victimsShare in %
2 25029.8793 31263.7
2 11828343 90727.6
2 00526.592 3797.5
4385.81 1300.1
7529.913 5021.1
7 563 100 1 244 230 100
Chile earthquake, 2010 © Claudio Núñez, CC BY-SA 2.0

So few during the decade, yet so deadly are the earthquakes which claimed the lives of 576 474 people that is, 46% of the total victims. Tsunamis come second with 271 775 deaths (22% of the total toll), followed by hurricanes and tropical storms that have resulted in the death of 229 037 people (18.4%). Heat waves with 92 674 victims are at the origin of 7.5% of deaths while floods has caused 55 049 deaths (4.5% of the total toll).

In the developed countries, natural catastrophes are less deadly. Indeed, it is in Europe, that the study finds the least number of victims, that is, 7.5% of the total toll, while Asia, alone, accounts for nearly 65% of deaths.

Economic cost of natural catastrophes

In financial terms, the past decade has been the most expensive in 30 years. It caused 1023 billion USD of economic losses, 327 billion of which (that is 32%), were supported by insurers and reinsurers.

A ranking based on the economic costs of natural catastrophes has shown that hurricanes and storms are by far the most expensive events. The bill for these catastrophes accounts for more than 43% of the total cost of damages, followed by floods with 23% of losses and earthquakes with 13.5%.

The high cost of hurricanes and storms is due to the recurring nature of these events. Nearly 91 of these events occur each year worldwide, 53 of which reached the cyclonic stage.

It is also worth noting that between 2001 and 2010, the costliest natural catastrophes are Hurricane Katrina, which occurred in 2005 in the United States (125 billion USD), followed by the tsunami in Indonesia 2004 (50 billion USD) and floods in Pakistan 2010 (43 billion USD).

Finally, with climate change in the picture, the natural catastrophes are poised to increase with considerable impact on global finance. According to the "Climate change scenarios-Implications for Strategic Asset Allocation," report, published by the consulting firm Mercer, the overall cost of damages to infrastructure, crops and drinking water sources could exceed 4000 billion USD by 2030.

This is an alarming figure that defies any forecasts.

Number of events, victims and annual cost of the world natural catastrophes between 2001 and 2010
in billions USD
 Number of eventsNumber of victimsTotal costInsured cost
64036 2243611
53012 1575513
63270 6326516
608295 26214544
867105 40321094
85378 5605015
90617 8238230
891225 30220045
84411 8505022
792391 017*13037
7 563 1 244 230 1023 327
* The survey took into account the authorities’ last assessment of Haïti’s earthquake i.e. 316 000 dead persons Source: Ubyrisk Consultants, a consultancy firm specialised in natural catastrophes risks
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