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Reason Foundation

Deaths From Hurricanes, Floods, Droughts, and Other Weather Events Are Down 98 Percent Since 1920s

September 22, 2011, 12:30pm

Despite concerns about global warming and a large increase in the number of reported storms and droughts, the world’s death rate from extreme weather events was lower from 2000 to 2010 than it has been in any decade since 1900, according to a new Reason Foundation study. 

The Reason Foundation report chronicles the number of worldwide deaths caused by extreme weather events between 1900 and 2010 and finds global deaths caused by extreme weather events peaked in the decade running from 1920 to 1929, when there were 241 deaths a year per million people in the world. From 1930 to 1939 there were 208 deaths a year per million people. But from 2000 to 2010 there were just 5.4 deaths a year per million people in the world. That’s a 98 percent decline in the weather-related death rate since the 1920s. Extreme weather events were responsible for just .07% of the world’s deaths between 2000 and 2010.

The extreme weather categories studied in the Reason Foundation report include droughts, floods, wildfires, storms (hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, typhoons, etc.) and extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. 

Droughts were the most deadly extreme weather category between 1900 and 2010, responsible for over 60 percent of extreme weather deaths during that time. The worldwide death rate from droughts peaked in the 1920s when there were 235 deaths a year per million people. Since then, the death rate has fallen by 99.9 percent. The study finds that global food production advancements, such as new crops, improved fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticides, along with society’s better ability to move food and medical supplies, were responsible for reducing the number of deaths in times of severe drought.

Floods were to blame for 30 percent of the deaths during the timeframe studied, making them the second most deadly extreme weather category. The death rate for floods topped out in the 1930s at 204 deaths a year per million people. Deaths from floods have fallen by over 98 percent since then and there was an average of approximately one flood death per year per million people from 2000 to 2010.

Deaths from storms spiked as recently as the 1970s, when there were 10 deaths a year per million people. But the death rate has dropped by 75 percent since then, with storms being blamed for two deaths a year per million people from 2000 to 2010. 

The average number of extreme weather events recorded increased from 2.5 per year in the 1920s to 8.5 in the 1940s to 350 per year for the period 2000-2010. The study notes technological and telecommunication advances made it significantly easier to learn of and respond to weather events.  Broader news coverage and an increased tendency by authorities to declare natural disaster emergencies have also contributed to the large uptick in the number of storms recorded. 

“Overall mortality around the world is increasing, while mortality from weather events is decreasing,” said Dr. Indur Goklany, the author of the Reason Foundation study.  “Despite the intense media coverage of storms and climate change’s prominent role in political debates, humanity is coping far better with extreme weather events than it is with other much more important health and safety problems.”

“The number of reported extreme weather events is increasing, but the number of deaths and the risk of dying from those events have decreased,” said Julian Morris, the study’s project director and vice president of research at Reason Foundation. “Economic development and technological improvements have enabled society to protect against these events and to cope better with them when they do occur.”

Full Report Online

The full study is online here and here (.pdf).



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