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In 2019, 396 natural disasters were recorded in the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) with 11,755 deaths, 95 million people affected and 103 billion US$ in economic losses across the world. The burden was not shared equally as Asia suffered the highest impact and accounted for 40% of disaster events, 45% of deaths and 74% of the total affected. India was hit hardest and recorded nearly 20% of the total deaths and 24.5% of the total number of people affected. Floods were the deadliest type of disaster accounting for 43.5% of deaths, followed by extreme temperatures at 25% (mainly due to heat waves in Europe) and storms at 21.5%. Storms affected the highest number of people, accounting for 35% of the total affected, followed by floods with 33% and droughts with 31%.

In   comparison   to   the   previous   decade   (2009-2018), in  2019  there  were  more  disasters  compared  to  the  annual average   of   343   events,   fewer   deaths   compared   to   the annual  average  of  45,212,  fewer  number  of  people  affected compared to the annual average of 184.7 million people, and lower  economic  losses  compared  to  the  annual  average  of $176  billion.  This  decrease  in  impact  is  due  to  the  absence of  massive  disaster  events  such  as  the  2010  earthquake in  Haiti  (222,500  deaths);  the  2015 / 2016  drought  in  India (330 million people affected); and the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami ($210 billion in damages).

The deadliest events recorded in 2019 were the summer heat  waves  that  affected  Europe,  more  specifically  France, Belgium   and   the   Netherlands,   with   over   2500   deaths. The    National    Oceanic    and    Atmospheric    Administration (NOAA) ranked 2019 as the second warmest year on record. Temperature   records   were   also   shattered   on   individual country levels: for the first time, Belgium and the Netherlands recorded  temperatures  over  40°C.  In  general,  the  impact of   heat   waves   remains   grossly   underestimated.   This   is primarily   due   to   underreporting   in   developing   countries, where temperatures often exceed European values by a large margin  and  local  populations  have  limited  possibilities  to protect themselves from heat wave exposure.

The  following  most  deadly  event  consisted  of  the  flood in  India  due  to  the  high  monsoon  rains,  which  lasted  from July  to  October  and  affected  13  states  (mainly  in  the  North) and  caused  nearly  2000  dead.  Two  storms  were  the  next deadliest:  cyclone  Idai  affected  central  Mozambique  and Zimbabwe   (March)   with   over   1200   deaths / missing;   and storm Dorian affected the United States and the Bahamas in September  with  at  least  358  deaths / missing.  We  recorded more than twice as many floods (194) as storms (91) this year, both types affecting nearly 64 million people worldwide. The African continent was particularly affected by storms in 2019: 11 recorded events accounted for a total of 1300 deaths and affected  over  4.5  million  people.  One  month  after  cyclone Idai,  Mozambique  was  hit  by  another  cyclone  in  the  north, Kenneth, which is considered to be the strongest cyclone to ever hit the African continent.

Fortunately, cyclone Kenneth’s official death toll was much lower than Idai’s, with only 45 fatalities reported. Nevertheless, the cyclone left nearly 400,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in a country still struggling from the previous disaster.

The  deadliest  geophysical  event  was  the  earthquake that  hit  Albania  in  November,  and  which  killed  51  people. There  was  only  one  volcanic  eruption  with  a  deadly  impact in 2019, namely the White Island eruption in New Zealand in December. This event was broadly covered by the media.

The year was also marked by large wildfires around the world which caught the public’s attention. The total damage and  economic  cost  should  reached  30  billion  US$  in  2019. This  estimate  is  likely  to  change  in  the  future  once  there  is more precise insight on the exact impact. At least 14 wildfires started in 2019, of which the most important were:

  • California/USA (Kincade, Saddleridge and Sandalwood fires, October) with low human impact reported but with total damages estimated at 1.3 billion US$;
  • Multi country event in South America/Amazonia for which it is quite difficult to have realistic figures on the human impact and the causal factors (both human and natural).
  • Australia (September 2019 to February 2020): these long lasting wildfires led to 32 deaths, burned over 6 million hectares of forest and bush, killed almost

500 million animals, destroyed thousands of homes and forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate.

Overall, the most notable features of the year included: large, severe and long-lasting wildfires which captured international attention and had dramatic impacts on the environment, even if the human impact was less severe than in previous years, and multiple heat waves during summer time with record temperatures in several European countries.

Globally, 4.1 billion people were potentially exposed to natural disasters in 2019. When compared side by side, the figures of population potentially exposed (PPE) to certain types of disasters present great differences in size. For example, floods and storm can affect wide areas of land, potentially reaching 2.9 and 1.9 billion people in the world respectively while earthquakes (142.9 million PPE) and wildfires (91 million PPE) tend to affect more specific regions. Although fewer people are potentially affected by wildfires, they are cyclical in some areas and therefore have a great influence on local populations.

During 2019, wildfires had a devastating economic impact on the United States of America. California was again severely impacted. However, the Californian population is not affected equally, and some spatial variation can be noted.

To better show spatial variation within the state, the maps display only wildfires for which information about their footprints was available at a sub-state level. By doing so, 6 disasters are omitted since they affected practically the entire state.

Located in the south of California, the counties around   the   city   of   Los   Angeles   (Ventura,   San Bernardino   and   Orange)   are   among   the   most affected  areas  with  between  3  and  13  wildfires  in 2019 (map B). The counties north of the city of San Francisco  and  around  the  city  of  Sacramento  were also severely affected by wildfires, but not as often as the southern counties. However, these counties show a wide variation in area. When the number of wildfires per county is controlled for the size of the county  (map  C),  this  difference  is  reduced.  When showing the number of wildfires by population, other counties  are  hardest  hit.  The  northern  counties  of California and the ones on the east of Sacramento are among the counties with the highest number of wildfires per inhabitant (map D).

Since   2014,   EM-DAT   also   georeferences   the main   types   of   natural   disasters:   earthquakes, volcanic     activities,     mass     movements     (dry), floods, landslides, storms, extreme temperatures, droughts   and   wildfires.   We   have   georeferenced disaster    footprints    for    all    events    from    2000 onwards. Based on different sources of information, the  affected  areas,  also  known  as  the  disaster footprint,   can   be   delimited   by   extracting   the corresponding administrative units from the GAUL (Global Administrative Unit Layers) spatial dataset. This process adds values to the data for analysis at a sub-national scale.


About EM-DAT
Since 1988, CRED has maintained the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT). Initially created with the support of the WHO and the Belgian government, the main objectives of EM-DAT are to inform humanitarian action at the national and international levels in order to improve rational decision-making in disaster preparedness, provide objective data for assessing communities’ vulnerability to disasters and help policy-makers set priorities.
EM-DAT contains core data on the occurrence and effects of more than 24,000 natural and technological disasters from 1900 to the present day. It is compiled from various sources (UN agencies, the US Office of Foreign  Disaster  Assistance,  national  governments, the  International  Federation  of  Red  Cross  and  Red Crescent   Societies,   NGOs,   insurance   companies, research  institutes  and  the  media)  according  to  a priority list.
CRED defines a disaster as “a situation or event that overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request at the national or international level for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering”. Only natural disasters (biological excluded) are included in this publication. For a disaster to be entered into the database, at least one of the following criteria must be fulfilled:
  • 10 or more people reported killed
  • 100 or more people reported affected
  • declaration of a state of emergency
  • call for international assistance
Since  2014,  EM-DAT  also  georeferences  natural disasters,  adding  geographical  values  to  numeric data which is essential for deeper analysis.
Acknowledgements: The data used in this report is maintained through the long-term support of the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA). This report was put together at CRED by Regina Below, Valentin Wathelet and Remi Froment. We are also grateful to MARDI for the layout and printing.
We encourage the free use of the contents of this report with appropriate and full citation:
CRED. Natural Disasters 2019. Brussels: CRED; 2020. This document is available at: sites/default/files/adsr_2019.pdf
Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)
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The Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT)