Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse?According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of flood and storm catastrophes has risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades. With reports of excessive weather damage constantly in the news, it is important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? 

By definition, natural disasters are any form of catastrophic events induced by nature or natural activities of the Earth. Some examples include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes. The severity of such disasters is typically measured by the number of deaths, economic loss and the nation’s capacity to rebuild.

Many natural disasters are beyond human control. The constant motion of Earth’s tectonic plates initiates earthquakes and tsunamis. Fluctuation in solar radiation infiltrating the atmosphere and oceans give rise to storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.

However, sometimes natural disasters aren’t so natural and are caused by humanity’s interference with the Earth’s system.

For example, as environmental pollution increases, humans are contributing more energy to the system; which strengthens the likelihood of repeated hazards such as flash floods, bushfires, heatwaves and tropical cyclones. 

So are natural disasters getting worse? The answer is yes. The number of geophysical disasters on Earth’s surface, like earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions, have remained steady since the 1970s. But the number of climate-related catastrophes has vastly increased. The amount of damage done to the economy due to these catastrophes has seen a steady upsurge.

There were triple the number of natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 as the number that occurred between 1980 to 1989. A large majority, 80 percent, of this growth is caused by climate-related happenings.

It may no longer be important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? But instead: Why are natural catastrophes getting worse?

The scale of disasters has swelled due to higher rates of urbanization, deforestation, environmental degradation and escalating climatic elements like high temperatures, extreme rain and snow and more brutal wind and water storms.

Dangerous events do not need to result in a tragedy. Limiting vulnerability and increasing the ability to respond to these disasters can save lives. Additionally, the continuous evolution of science and technology is making it more possible to anticipate disasters, provide aid quicker and allow for the rebuilding of cities in safer areas.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

It’s commonly thought that the bigger the natural disaster, the greater the death and destruction, but that’s hardly the case. The 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 160,000 people registered at 7.0 while the Japan earthquake that occurred a year later and registered at 9.0 killed only 15,893 people.

Why did the much larger quake have a significantly lower death toll? The answer is preparation. Japan is a rich, modernized country with advanced infrastructure and a stable economy.

It predicted and planned for the quake. Haiti was caught off guard and lacked sufficient medical supplies, shelter and clean water. The country’s poor infrastructure led to a mass collapse of buildings, trapping and injuring more people than a 7.0 earthquake would normally achieve.

How can countries around the world participate in global earthquake preparedness?

After Japan experienced its largest earthquake in 2011, known today as the Great East Japan Earthquake, it has taken great measures to make the country resilient to quakes. 90 percent of housing is earthquake resistant, and companies are encouraged to keep enough food and water onsite to sustain employees for at least three days.

Earthquakes are especially dangerous because they often trigger other natural disasters. Fires, floods, landslides and tsunamis are common earthquake side effects. Countries can minimize these risks by recognizing and avoiding faultlines, unstable terrain, highly flammable building materials and dangerously-fluctuating water levels.

“The world has already shown great progress in saving lives by improving weather forecasting, setting up early warning systems and organizing evacuations,” Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General, told the Yomiuri Shimbun.


Earthquake Preparedness for Rural Areas
The most devastating effect of earthquakes occurs when they strike under-developed rural areas. In the aftermath of disaster, victims are cut off from communication, water, medical attention and proper nutrition.

Water and Sanitation Kits, also known as WatSan-Kits, buy time for people in rural areas as they wait for emergency assistance. Depending on the type of WatSan-Kit, it may include basic hygiene, water tanks, water testing equipment, water purification units, latrine materials and a diesel pump.

One Kit can help as many as 10,000 people. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement train countries to use WatSan-Kits.

A key factor in global earthquake preparedness is effective and thorough communication between emergency personnel and affected areas. Because organizations are usually more prepared and knowledgeable than the countries they’re helping, resentment and lack of understanding can severely impair progress.

Organizations should include their host country in every step of the process and explain the ins and outs of the operation, suggests Earthzine.

Earthquake Preparedness at Home
Preparation can occur at even the most basic level. Families can create personal earthquake emergency plans, such as teaching children where to go in the event of a quake and maintaining a full-stocked food storage.

Clean water, especially, is a must-have. Great Shakeout Earthquake Drills, established around the world by the Southern California Earthquake Center, provide training on earthquake preparedness.

Funding for Earthquake Preparedness
Finally, proper funding is vital to global earthquake preparedness. Many countries are too poor to afford proper building materials and emergency supplies, making donations very appreciated. One donation to Red Cross or another nonprofit relief aide can make a family’s house earthquake-resilient.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Earthzine, Time, The Diplomat, CNN, Shakeout
Photo: Social Worker, Flickr

Early in 2015, Malawi witnessed severe flood damage. Recuperation efforts are trying to get citizens back on their feet in new areas after hindrances to national development. The U.K. government, Met Office, NASA and Google created a partnership with the U.S. in June 2015 in order to ground exponential tactics in Africa to prepare for natural disasters.

To protect outside countries from weather-related disasters, on June 9, 2015 organizations met in Washington, D.C. to access, with more depth and analysis, the forecast and climate of poor nations. U.K.’s Met Office houses top scientists in weather research. The Department for International Development (DFID) is working with African scientists, U.K. universities and the Met Office to help create the first continental climate plan.

The plan is to help in-country capabilities and strengthen resilience. This project will help farmers plan ahead when droughts, floods and other storms are predicted. Governments and communities need help to adapt to certain practices and learn valuable information to protect their food supply.

In 2011, the U.K. improved its foreign aid capabilities to respond to disasters such as Malawi’s flood. Its government launched a proposal to increase its goal to help those in need in a timely manner.

It helped to better countries’ resilience by supplying resources, delivering technological advancements and sending experts in science and medicine. The U.K. also encouraged militaristic involvement when responding and created partnerships with China, Brazil, the Gulf States and various charities.

In 2012, DIFD announced at the Rio+20 Earth Summit that it would be improving extra support of small scale farmers. Agricultural workers need to find ways to adapt to climate change, build storage units and create stronger crops.

The people of Malawi rely heavily on agriculture to survive. The flood destroyed 158,147 acres of farmland, and approximately 230,000 people were displaced after the storm. Crops were no longer usable, and homes were swept away.

Yet President Peter Mutharika predicted that US$51 million was needed to uplift the country to its former self. UNICEF had sent $9.3 million for an emergency response unit to instill clean water and sanitation amenities to fight disease.

The number of natural disasters has tripled in the past 30 years. Poor countries are especially vulnerable due to slow recovery after disaster strikes. Malawi’s flood closed roads, turned off power supplies and made going to school hazardous.

DIFD suggested that farmers need to construct much sturdier facilities to hold their food. The department understood that monitoring the weather was equally as important in order to prepare for disaster. Monitoring and reporting are essential in the process of preparing for change. The DFID hoped to benefit 6 million farms in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Google will also give one petabyte (or 1,000 terabytes) of Internet storage data housing satellite screenshots and weather analytics. All organizations under this new, life-saving mission have invested a total amount of $31 million. USAID is supplying $10 million, and DFID has committed to $10 million as well.

After the devastation in Malawi, it is time to incubate preparation strategies. The storms may be unstoppable, but their impact can be much more minimal. The best emergency response begins before disaster hits. With upgraded technologies stationed in target areas, countries will be able to organize and plan well in advance.

– Katie Groe

Sources: Gov.Uk 1, Gov.Uk 2, The Guardian, The Global Mechanism
Photo: Flickr