Friday, 2 December 2016

Asia in the past decade: A hotpot of disasters

A coastline in Kuakata, Bangladesh.
©Stephanie Andrei

“The Asia and the Pacific region has experienced some of the most damaging disasters in recent decades, with alarming consequences for human welfare. At the same time, the climate in the region has been changing. Temperatures have been higher, on average, and also more variable and more extreme. Rainfall has also been more variable and more extreme.” (Thomas et al. 2013)


Asia boasts of a huge population, with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)statistics indicating 4.5 billion people in 2016 – almost 60 per cent of world’s population. China and India account for  over half the region’s population.

This huge population, coupled with unprecedented change in environment and climate continue to increase the frequency and severity of intense natural disasters. This is the reality for Asia region, where people continue to battle with hydro-meteorological and climatological like flood, storms, droughts, heatwaves, among others.  The AR5 IPCC confirms that Asia experiences a series of floods, drought and heatwaves. 

Source: AR5 IPCC

An analysis of data (2006-2015) from the comprehensive EMDAT database  shows that storms, floods and extreme temperatures (heat waves) have been the most frequent natural disasters in Asia for the past decade accounting for approximately 221,011 deaths, 1,131,734,595 people affected and 
US$ 359 billion in damages.

Frequency of disasters

The frequency of disasters have varied annually within the last decade. Data from the EMDAT database shows floods and tropical cyclones have been more frequent in Asia but on non-linear scale. For instance, cases of floods were lowest in 2008 when tropical cyclones were highest. The occurrence of forest fires and Tsunamis remain low. 

Frequency of disasters in Asia (Source: EM-DAT Database, Accessed 1 December 2016)

Severity of disasters

There is a variation terms of severity of these disasters with a bit of correlation between frequency and level of damages. Although tropical cyclones do not occur as frequent as floods, the number of deaths caused by the former are almost 4 times the latter. As shown in the first table, between 2006-2016, the number of lives lost through storms are 167, 800 as compared to 44,284 deaths by floods. The level of losses and damage vary based on intensity of the event, the level of preparedness among people, and the response capacity.

Disasters in Asia between 2006-2015  and the impacts (Source: EM-DAT Database, Accessed 1 December 2016)


There exists no homogeneity among countries within the region. Although the statistics presented above are cumulative, different countries in Asia region are prone to different hazards depending on their geographical local and their capacity to prepare and respond to various disasters. The Philippines leads in the number of natural disasters especially floods and tropical cyclones, followed by China, India, and Indonesia.

In May 2016, for instance, an article on the CNN  website highlighted the devastating impact of heat waves in India where temperatures in Phalodi were soaring at 51 degrees Celsius. During the same period, a road in New Delhi had melted  at 43 degrees Celsius. 

Some of the progress in Asia towards addressing various threats to natural disasters include, but not limited to, enhancing early warning systems, mainstreaming adaptation into national, sub-regional and regional plans as evident in their respective  intended nationally determined contributions. Emphasizes should also be placed on enhancing end-o-end communication between responsible agencies and the vulnerable groups of people, reinforcing insurance mechanisms that can compensate citizens in the event of losses and damages, and promoting reforestation programmes across the region.