Special Report

The Deadliest Natural Disasters of All Time

While the U.S. has suffered damaging wildfires, droughts, floods, and storms throughout its history, these have generally been less deadly and destructive than weather events in many regions of the world. 

Typhoons and Hurricanes regularly batter Southeast Asia and South America, with torrential rains triggering landslides capable of burying villages. Droughts, and the resulting famines, regularly plague many African nations. Storm surges in the Pacific wash away entire communities, and sometimes the land itself. Even Europe has suffered terribly as the heat waves of recent years have killed the elderly by the thousands and dried up crops and livelihoods. 

To identify the five deadliest natural disasters in each global region since 1970, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed total deaths from natural disasters around the world from the World Meteorological Organization’s report, “WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019).” The report analyzed natural disasters recorded by EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database.

Because of its focus on natural disasters that highlight impacts of specific weather, climate, and water hazards, the report only includes meteorological (storm, extreme temperature), hydrological (flood, landslide), and climatological (drought, wildfire) disasters and excludes biological (e.g. epidemic), geophysical (e.g. earthquake), and extraterrestrial (e.g. meteoroids) disasters. 

The worst disasters tend to hit poorer countries the hardest, where housing is ramshackle, access roads and bridges vulnerable, and preparation for disaster spotty at best. Our own sense of invulnerability — though somewhat shaken in recent years — can be attributed in part to our relative wealth, allowing for well-constructed buildings and infrastructure and strategies for minimizing the impact of flooding and other disasters. (These are the U.S. cities where hurricanes would cause the most damage.)

It is now recognized that natural weather disasters are becoming worse, mainly attributable to climate change, making vulnerable nations ever more so, and the more privileged nations fearful. Our future safety in the face of these calamitous events depends on our willingness and ability to slow climate change, adapt to the inevitable climate disasters ahead, and help the poorer regions of the world survive. (Here is every major U.S. city’s worst weather disaster.)

Click here to see the deadliest natural disasters of all time

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