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Natural disasters since 1900 cost the world $7 trillion in damages

world Updated: Apr 19, 2016 19:40 IST
AFP
AFP
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Residents walk past a row of collapsed buildings felled by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, in Portoviejo, Ecuador. The April 16 quake left a trail of ruin along Ecuador’s normally placid Pacific Ocean coast.(AP Photo)

Natural disasters have caused more than $7 trillion (6.2 trillion euros) in economic damage worldwide since 1900, with floods and storms accounting for nearly 60% of the total, researchers said on Monday.

The death toll from such natural calamities -- which also include earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires -- topped eight million from 1900 to 2015, according to findings presented at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

More than a third -- 38.5% -- of the economic damage and just over half the loss of life was the result of flooding, according to James Daniell, an Australian risk engineer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

“Flooding is the key driver” for economic loss and death, said Daniell, who has catalogued 35,000 disasters over 115 years, the largest such database in existence.

Since about 1960, storms and storm surges -- the exceptional waves they cause -- have replaced flooding as the most destructive forces, battering buildings and infrastructure.

Whether this shift was due to climate change was impossible to say, he told AFP.

Workers make restoration work on Kyushu Shinkansen, or bullet train, after it came off the rails in the earthquake-hit Kumamoto city, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, on April 18. (AP Photo)

“When we go back in time, the record is not complete,” he said on the sidelines of the annual gathering of about 13,000 Earth and space scientists.

“We probably have floods and storms from the 1930s or 1940s, for example, that never came into the database.”

The frequency of other natural disasters -- notably earthquakes, which account for 26% of losses, and volcanoes, which caused one percent -- remained fairly constant over time.

Earthquakes accounted for nearly 30% of deaths, some 2.3 million people over the 115-year period.

Of those fatalities, nearly 60% died when buildings collapsed while about 28% perished in a tsunami or landslide.

Overall, the annual cost of economic losses due to natural disaster has increased progressively over time, the study found.

But as a percentage of the rising value of all infrastructure on the ground -- currently estimated at some $300 trillion -- losses have actually declined, Daniell said.