In 2017 a torrent of natural disasters was unleashed on the world, and in the way the World Economic Forum (WEF) had predicted. In its Global Risk Report it put extreme weather events as the number 1 global risk in terms of likelihood, and major natural disasters as number 3 – both up on last year. Both categories also feature highly on its impact rating.
The WEF report itself is created to describe changes occurring to the global risks landscape from year to year ahead of the Forum’s annual meeting in Davos Switzerland. More than 750 experts assessed 30 global risks to create the report. If the WEF’s findings put extreme weather as the greatest threat ahead of terrorism and theft of data, then it can be argued that global businesses, as well as governments, need to be better prepared.
The United Nations University World Risk Report 2016 also sheds interesting light on particular countries around the world that are most vulnerable. It takes into account not only the force of the natural event, but also the living conditions and the ability for people to get assistance in the event of an emergency.
This article takes a look at some of the major natural disaster events that have happened in just 2017 alone, and more importantly, where the danger hot spots currently seem to be.
Vanuatu has been calculated as the world’s most at risk country for natural hazards – and not for the first time. Storms, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have historically overshadowed its inhabitants.
In September this year, the activity level for Monaro volcano on Ambae Island was raised – and although it has calmed down since then, it has polluted water supplies and still threatens to erupt.
Nearby Tonga – part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ – comes a close second to Vanuatu, as it sits in a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic activities that can trigger tsunamis.
With Tropical Cyclone Debbie also ravaging North Queensland in Australia, it’s evident that few countries across the world are immune from natural hazards, but the vulnerability of populations varies greatly.
In south Asia, there has been severe monsoon flooding. India, Bangladesh and Nepal have all fallen victim to the floods, with an estimated 40 million people affected – including at least 1,200 people killed; while Myanmar and China have also experienced severe flooding and the displacement of millions of people. As China is often referred to as ‘The World’s Factory’, the economic cost not only affects the country itself, but also global companies whose supply chains depend on her manufacturing capabilities.
Bangladesh is number 5 currently on the ‘World Risk Report’. Apart from the humanitarian devastation that’s been caused, the economic cost from supply chain disruption cannot be underestimated either, Bangladesh being a major global manufacturing hub for apparel and textiles.
The rainy season is usually welcomed in parts of Africa as a break from the oppressive heat of the dry season. But so far in 2017, the rains have triggered flood disasters leading to hundreds of deaths. While no African country features in the UN University’s top 10 ‘at risk’ list, this year’s weather has been far from kind to the vast continent.
In mid-August, Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown was rocked by its worst natural disaster in recent times, as a devastating mudslide destroyed homes and buried hundreds of others under the debris.
Flooding and storms have also wreaked havoc on South Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, the CAR, Nigeria, Ghana – to name but a few.
Europe is, unsurprisingly, not hugely exposed to natural hazards, although it’s had its share of earthquakes in recent years.
Greece and Turkey are among Europe’s most earthquake-prone countries, as they lie on the meeting point of African and Eurasian tectonic plates. And throughout the summer, Turkey has experienced an unprecedented amount of seismic activity, including several strong earthquakes.
What the official risk reports do not mention though, is the Atlantic hurricane season that followed after the indices were published. 2017 became the first year in more than a century — and only the fourth on record — in which 10 Atlantic storms in a row reached hurricane strength. Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate and Ophelia all whipped up a frenetic stretch of destruction across the Caribbean islands, the Florida peninsula and the Texas coastline.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the United States for the first time since Wilma in 2005. In Texas and Louisiana, 27 trillion gallons of rain buried the region and flooded thousands of homes. While the costs are still escalating, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Harvey’s damage so far at approximately $160 billion. While some US insurers are predicting the final total could be double that, not least due to the supply chain interruptions it will continue to cause long after Harvey disappeared. Then came Irma, whose intense winds and storm surges seriously damaged the Florida Keys and parts of the Caribbean. And shortly after, Maria arrived, devastating the US territory of Puerto Rico – with power still unavailable for many of its inhabitants.
Mexico has also fallen prey to a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake this year, killing more than 200 people. And as this article is being written, rampant wildfires are still spreading through California. 100,000 evacuations have already been made and approximately 5,700 homes and businesses destroyed.
While the natural disasters mentioned here are by no means exhaustive, they illustrate that natural hazards are also outside our control, widespread and sometimes unpredictable. The humanitarian cost of any natural disaster is always a tragedy. Increasingly the economic toll is also becoming an enormous burden for many countries – not only regionally or nationally, but also internationally, with global supply chains more interconnected than ever before. Any type of disaster leaves an economic imprint that lingers for years. 2017 will certainly be a year that’s remembered as the start of a long road to recovery for many regions across the world.