From earthquakes and hurricanes to wildfires, tornadoes and everything in between, it’s clear that natural disasters leave a trail of destruction in their path.
But just how much do these severe weather events cost, and how do the expenses for natural disasters in your country compare to events around the world? Can disasters that cost a similar amount of destruction impact a country’s GDP differently?
We looked at several worldwide natural disasters between 2000 and 2019 with a damage bill that exceeded more than USD$1 billion. Not only did we investigate the total cost of these natural disasters, but how much they would be worth in today’s terms due to inflation.
Please note: We have endeavoured to include as many relevant disasters as possible based on reliable available data, however, we acknowledge that this list may not be comprehensive of all natural disasters that occurred between 2000 and 2019.
What happened: A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch at 12:51pm on 22 February 2011, killing 185 people, injuring thousands and causing significant damage. It came six months after another quake hit the region, with previously damaged buildings reduced to rubble this time around.14
More than half of the CBD structures had to be demolished, thousands of homes were destroyed, and many suburban areas were abandoned. Residents across the city were left homeless, while others were left with no power or water.15
What’s more, is some areas of the CBD were cordoned off for more than two years after the earthquake.14 Parts of the city and surrounding areas were deemed unsuitable for rebuilding, with 8,062 households offered a buyout from the government. Other areas of the city have been considered fit to rebuild.
A national state of emergency was declared and the government launched the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to help the city rebuild.15
The current situation: Following the earthquake, an estimated 70,000 people left Christchurch due to ongoing aftershocks and because their homes were destroyed and they had little access to essential services.16 However, the city’s population returned to pre-earthquake levels six years later in 2017.17
Statistics also show that Christchurch is slowly bouncing back. Compared to a 2013 census, Stats NZ found that in 2018, there were an additional 11,000 workers in the CBD.18
Of course, the city still faces hurdles a decade after disaster struck. For example, the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan notes that some key issues with Christchurch’s recovery include:
Still, Christchurch City Council has several development projects in the pipeline, including:
What happened: One of the more recent natural disasters on our list was also one of the most destructive. In fact, Hurricane Maria is one of the top 10 most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded.21 Sadly, Puerto Rico was already dealing with Hurricane Irma’s aftermath, which hit the nation just weeks before Maria. Two in three people were already without electricity, and a third was without clean water because of that disaster.21
The hurricane caused an array of damage, including:
Meanwhile, the official death toll was shrouded in controversy. Government figures initially claimed that 64 people had died,21 but later said that 2,975 people had lost their lives due to the hurricane.22 Many media outlets and researchers criticised the initial number and the government was ordered to release information about the deaths caused by the hurricane.29
In 2018, Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, released a statement and said ‘The hurricane killed 2,975 people. This is a fact, and based on that fact, we adjust the official number of victims. It’s not time to deny what happened – it’s time to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’22
The current situation: Much like the official death toll, controversy has surrounded Hurricane Maria’s recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. In January 2020, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ordered a thorough investigation into the mishandling of supplies that were intended to be part of recovery efforts for Hurricane Maria. Supplies were found unused in a warehouse – they hadn’t been distributed to those who needed them when the disaster first struck.23
As a result, Carlos Acevedo, Commissioner of the State Bureau for Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD), was fired.23
Meanwhile, data from the United States Census Bureau shows that Puerto Rico’s population decreased by 12,848 (or 3.9% of the population) in the year following Hurricane Maria, with higher rates of out-migration (people moving to mainland America) observed.24
As for recovery efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in September 2020 said it would award USD$13 billion worth of infrastructure grants in Puerto Rico and that the territory would also receive USD$11.6 billion in federal funding.25 This includes:
FEMA also explains that more than 4,800 projects now have funding, which will help restore and rebuild:
Using various sources, we determined a list of worldwide natural disasters that caused more than USD$1 billion worth of damage in the year the disaster struck, where reliable data was available. We’ve endeavoured to include as many relevant disasters as possible based on reliable available data. However, we acknowledge that this list may not be comprehensive of all natural disasters.
The disasters analysed in this article includes floods, hurricanes, cyclones, hailstorms, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis. Using historical data, we determined what the damage caused by the natural disaster was in local currency, as well as in USD. We also converted these figures to understand how much the damage would cost in 2020 due to inflation.
To give us a better understanding of the financial impact at a country level, we took the financial cost of each individual disaster and presented it as a percentage of the relevant country’s GDP. GDP figures were based on World Bank Data for the year of the natural disaster.
We’ve also used statistics to help us determine the global cost per natural disaster between 2000 and 2019, the number of people impacted by natural disasters each year and the total number of natural disasters by year. The cost to individual countries was also taken into consideration.
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