Has there been an increase in natural disasters in recent years?

Has there been an increase in natural disasters in recent years?

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Following on from my recent blog about how many trees our office throws away each year http://community.psion.com/blog/b/weblog/archive/2011/02/14/do-you-know-how-many-trees-your-office-is-throwing-away-each-year.aspx and the ongoing breaking news on natural disasters occurring around the world, I found myself wondering if there has been an increase in natural disasters in recent years? And if “man” was the contributing factor?

What I found is that there indeed seems to be a dramatic increase in the past decade.  Comments from various government departments and scientists / researches all paint the same gloomy picture.

“According to reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claimed in 2007 that some of the costs of extreme weather events could be attributed to global warming. “  Scientific and technical reports present compelling evidence that human-induced climate change is upon us, and that its consequences could be devastating...” Dr. Baliunas and Dr. Soon.  “The number of events have gone up very, very dramatically," CRED Director Debarati Guha-Sapir said in Geneva.

The CRED report went on further to comment that during the 2000 – 2009 period there had been 385 disasters, an increase of 233% since 1980 to 1989, and a 67% increase since 1990 to 1999.  Though earthquakes made up 60% of natural disasters from 2000 to 2009, climate-related events, such as droughts, storms and floods, had made up the majority of disasters overall, increasing tenfold since data was first collected in 1950.  And from 1992-2001, about 90% of natural disasters were meteorological or hydrological in origin; the resulting economic losses were estimated at $446bn.

We are only two months into the year and already we have experienced a vast number of global disasters and other strange phenomena:

Earthquakes:- Argentina 6.9, Southern XinJiang 5.2, Chile 7.1, Japan (- Triggered Tsunami warning),  South East Iran, Northern Argentina 7.0, California 4.5, New Zealand 6.3.  Floods:- Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Bolivia. Fires:- Australia Windstorms & Cyclones:- Scotland, Bingiza, Yasi, Wilma, Vania Snowstorms:- USA Dead animals:- Arkansas 1000 dead birds, Arkansas river 20-mile dead fish, Louisiana hundreds dead blackbirds, Manitoba 10000s dead birds, South America thousands dead birds fall from sky, Kentucky dead birds, Brazil 100 tons dead fish, East Texas Hundreds of dead birds, Sweden dead birds, Brazil and New Zealand dead fish, England 40000 dead crabs.

 You can view the growth trend graph of Natural Disasters below:  

Scary stuff? Most definitely! The statistics in the graph reveals an exponential increase in disasters. This raises several questions. Is the increase due to a significant improvement in access to information? What part does population growth and infrastructure development play? And finally, is climate change behind the increasing frequency of natural hazards? And is “man” to blame?

Well, with the growing population and infrastructures the world’s exposure to natural hazards is inevitably increased. For example, the strongest population growth is located in coastal areas (with greater exposure to floods, cyclones and tidal waves). And to make matters worse any land remaining available for urban growth is generally risk-prone, for instance flood plains or steep slopes subject to landslides. From this I can surmise that the increase in population does not perhaps alter the number of events taking place but it certainly alters the effect it has on lives, infrastructure and economic loss.

Likewise I doubt the increased media coverage on disasters has had any influence in the increase in events but instead has been a blessing in respect of getting global assistance to areas in need.  Prior to increased media coverage events would have been recorded weeks or months after the tragedy had occurred.

Having eliminated the first two suggestions for the increase in natural disasters the only explanation remaining is that climate change has been the contributing factor to the increase.   And as scientists have suggested that the extra greenhouse gases which humans have released intensifies the problems with climate change, we can surmise that man is to blame? Or can we?

This is an ongoing, controversial subject which has been continuously argued over between governments and scientists. 

"Have climate-related disasters increased? The answer is yes," Sapir said, adding, "But it is not clear that climate change itself is an important factor.”  Doctors Baliunas and Soon, “recent global weather patterns fall well within the range of natural historical climate variability, and that dramatic decreases of carbon dioxide emissions would have little or no affect on climate.”  IPCC said “its claims were used in a "balanced context" that made it quite clear that the link between natural disasters and climate change was not conclusive.”

Well regardless of the ongoing debate, I personally feel that making changes for the better can only be for the better.  So I for one am committed to help, wherever I can.  Some easy ways for us all to follow in an effort to combat the greenhouse effect are as follows:

  • Turn off lights and electrical equipment when they are not in use (at home and at work).
  • Only boil the amount of water you need in your kettle.
  • Let your clothes dry naturally rather than using a tumble drier.
  • Turning down the thermostat for your heating by 1 degree could cut your heating bill by 10%.
  • Use energy saving light bulbs - they use a quarter of the electricity and last much longer.
  • Insulate your hot water tank and pipes.
  • Reduce heat loss (ie from windows, doors, insulation, etc).
  • Use your vehicles responsibly.  See my post on how to reduce business mileage and reduce fuel spend.    http://community.psion.com/blog/b/weblog/archive/2011/01/28/how-to-reduce-business-mileage-and-reduce-fuel-spend.aspx
  • Use the plug in your basin or sink - don't leave water running unnecessarily.
  • Always wash a full load in your washing machine or in your dishwasher.  (Never a problem at the office.)
  • Fix dripping taps and make sure that they are turned off fully - in one week a dripping tap can waste a bath full of water.
  • Have a shower instead of a bath - an ordinary shower uses two-fifths of the water in a bath but power showers use 4 times as much water as a normal shower.
  • Water plants in the early evening - less water will evaporate
  • Avoid using sprinklers - they can use up to 1000 litres of water an hour!
  • Don't use a hose pipe to wash your car - use a bucket instead.
  • Reuse as much as possible - envelopes, carrier bag, etc - in the UK we generate enough rubbish to fill the Albert Hall in just one hour.
  • Recycle as much as possible (glass, cans, paper, plastic).
  • Recycle organic waste by making a composter and use it on your own garden.
  • Stop excessive junk mail.
  • Make a shopping list so that you only buy what you need and are going to use.
  • Buy organic products.
  • Buy goods with minimal packaging.
  • Reuse shopping bags or take your own.
  • Use freezer bags when buying frozen goods so that your freezer has less work to do.
  • Buy refillable products and refills where possible.
  • Buy environmentally friendly cleaning and washing products.
  • Buy in bulk if possible.
  • Buy recycled paper or wood from sustainable forests

Now I have probably bored you all to tears with all this, but if we can make a difference (no matter how small) to reduce climate change and perhaps the increase in natural disasters then count me in. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the friends, families, rescuers and aid workers who have been involved in the earthquake in New Zealand and other recent disasters.

  • lots of interesting facts Margie.

    I guess the unknown is how long a period of time do you need to monitor this data to rule out a larger cycle that would decline or show that maybe its not just an upwards trend but just too short a subset of data...i guess we have to assume its not a cycle and that we are making things worse or we might be too late!

  • Thanks Margaret.  Here is a bit about preparation for a disaster.

    On April 28, 2011, at 10:15 am the Great Shakeout is scheduled to occur in the United States.   It is sponsored by many groups including FEMA and the Red Cross.  The idea is to get everyone to create a plan in case an earthquake occurs but many of the tips offered can help in any disaster.  Check out the quick links section.

    Here is the link for the Great Shakeout for central US.


  • As the world population continues to increase, human beings continue to expand into previously unsettled areas of the planet. A tornado that wiped out a subdivision in Kansas last month would have passed harmlessly through a corn field fifty years ago.

    Two hundred years ago an Ohio River flood would have gone unnoticed but to a handful of native americans, who in any case would have been smart enough not to build their settlements within the potential flood zone.

    The most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the Eastern U.S. were the New Madrid quakes of 1811/1812. The effects were felt across a million square miles (the Mississippi River changed its course), yet there were no recorded fatalities. If the same earthquakes were to occur today (and they will, eventually), the loss of life and property would be catastrophic.

    So is it that natural disasters are occuring more frequently, or simply that humans continue to move into harm's way?

  • Interesting point Mark - never thought of it like that before

  • the climate on Earth has changed many times throughout its history. These changes have occurred due to volcanic eruptions, changes in Earth´s orbit, changes in the axis of rotation and variations in the composition of the atmosphere. Due to this regular pattern we are about to enter into a new "small" ice age due to a decline in solar activity (it happens around every 100 years).  but... Can Mankind change the climate? Yes. But one thing is clear. If  we strive to continue polluting,  the air we breathe, water we drink and the land we provides us food, nature will respond dramatically and this is beginning... Margaret congratulations for these  kind of blogs.. and I looking forward to see the next soon.