Natural Disaster Nations

The countries most impacted by weather events

Henry Man

Apr 8, 2024

The number of natural disasters globally has increased by five-fold in the past 50 years – driven by climate change and improved reporting methods.1

As experts in helping Australians compare home and contents insurance to find a policy that suits their circumstances and level of risk for their property, we studied which countries have been most impacted by natural disasters in history.

To do this, we compared the total number of people affected and economic damages from natural disasters in the past 50 years across 60 different countries.

Here’s what we found.

Nations most impacted nations by natural disasters (1971-2021)

China – 9.73/10

Temple in China in front of mountains

China had a high index score, representing the most-impacted nation from natural disasters in a 50-year period.

This is because it has a wide geographic distribution putting certain provinces at risk of more than 100 types of natural hazards – including floods, tropical cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, landslides, and wildfires.2

China is severely affected by monsoon weather with around seven tropical cyclones impacting the east coast areas annually, while its position where the Eurasian, Pacific, and Indian Ocean tectonic plates meet makes it particularly susceptible to earthquakes.2

With a high population of more than 1.4 billion people, this makes large-scale disasters particularly destructive.3

One of the most poignant was the 2008 Sichuan magnitude 8.0 earthquake, which resulted in nearly 70,000 deaths – destroying poorly-constructed buildings and sending landslides into cities.4

Haiti – 8.93/10

Haiti homes landscape

Haiti is the second-most impacted country by natural disasters in the past 50 years.

The developing nation is situated in the path of Atlantic hurricanes, with steep topography in the west and all major river systems flowing to the coast.5 Therefore, floods are the largest threat – due to widespread deforestation and lacklustre drainage infrastructure – alongside cyclones, droughts, and landslides.

Notably, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in 2010 caused around 300,000 deaths – with Haitians still recovering years after disasters occur.6

India – 8.93/10

India Taj Mahal mausoleum in front of cloudy blue sky

India ties with Haiti and the Philippines on our index of the most impacted nations by natural disasters.

The world’s most populated country is also among the most disaster-prone.7 India is most at risk of droughts and earthquakes, in addition to cyclones, floods, extreme temperature, and wildfires.8

For example, an earthquake hit Gujarat in 2001 that reached up to 7.9 in magnitude and caused around 20,000 deaths.9

Philippines – 8.93/10

Dining boat on Philippines river

The Philippines ranked on par with Haiti and India as one of the most affected countries by natural disasters in a 50-year period.

With its geographic location in the Northwestern Pacific Basin, the developing nation has historically been most vulnerable to severe storms, floods and earthquakes.10

Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 killed 6,000 people across nine regions and caused significant agricultural and infrastructure damages.

Top 20 most affected countries by natural disasters (1971-2021)

RankCountryTotal No. of People AffectedTotal Economic Damages (% of GDP)Overall Index Score
9United States115,224,03310.28%8.03
17South Africa34,183,9484.21%6.52
19New Zealand6,62,90719.91%6.07
20Costa Rica2,213,7099.87%5.62

To form an index score for economic damages, we totalled the impact between 1971 to 2021 from individual percentages of each nation’s GDP per year. The GDP may vary year-by-year and the data outlined above serves as an estimation only.

Expert tips: How to be prepared for unexpected weather events

As the frequency, severity and cost impact of natural disasters continue to increase, it is important to protect your home and belongings ahead of time.11

Compare the Market Australia’s Executive General Manager of General Insurance Adrian Taylor said there are a range of measures to be prepared for natural disasters:

1. Understand your location’s disaster risk
2. Ensure all windows and doors can securely close and lock
3. Secure any outside belongings
4. Prepare an emergency plan and kit (first aid kit, medication, charged-up battery banks, important personal documents, etc.)
5. Have home and contents insurance cover before any ‘embargoes’ (when weather events are announced)

“Home and contents insurance is one way to ensure both your property and belongings are protected against damage, loss or theft in the event of the unexpected,” Mr Taylor said.

“However, each provider will differ in what they cover – such as flood cover being an optional extra for some – so it pays to compare to find a policy that suits your needs and location.

“If you already have home and contents insurance, make sure to check that you are not underinsured in today’s market, consider choosing a different excess, and compare policies regularly to minimise the impact on your wallet. There are specific policies for renters, landlords and jewellery, too.”

Always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Target Market Determination (TMD) to check for the inclusions, limits and restrictions before purchasing.

Methodology & Sources

Data collected on 12 February 2024.

We used a list of 60 countries to form an index and determine the most impacted countries by natural disasters in a 50-year period (1971 to 2021) – according to the EM-DAT international disaster database (via Our World in Data).

Two factors were indexed for each country with a score of between 0 and 10:

  • Total No. of People Affected: The number of people affected by natural disasters in each country between 1971 to 2021, including those who are injured, require assistance and displaced from a home.
  • Total Economic Damages (% of GDP): The sum of economic impact by natural disasters on each country between 1971 to 2021, as a percentage share of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

These individual factor scores were then averaged to create an equally weighted overall index score out of 10 (rounded to the nearest two decimal place). A higher score means that natural disasters have impacted the country more than others in the 50-year period.

Natural disasters in this study are classified as any geophysical, meteorological and climate event – including earthquakes, volcanic activity, landslides, drought, wildfires, storms, and flooding.

Additional sources: