Natural Catastrophes

Our articles and data visualizations rely on work from many different people and organizations. When citing this entry, please also cite the underlying data sources. This entry can be cited as:

Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie (2018) - "Natural Catastrophes". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

I. Empirical View

I.1 Number of reported natural disaster events

I.2 Deaths from natural disasters

Decadal deaths and death rates

In the following two charts we explore global fatalities from natural catastrophes since 1900. In the first chart we report the total annual number of deaths from natural catastrophes, as the decadal average from 1900. In the second chart, we report the same data but as the annual rate of global deaths (measured per 100,000 of the world population). The data for both charts can be found in the tables presented here.

Annual global number of deaths from natural catastrophes per decade, 1900-20151

Annual global death rate (per 100,000) per decade from natural catastrophes, 1900-20152

Annual number of deaths from natural disasters

Annual death rates from natural disasters

I.3 Number injured from natural disasters

The chart below shows the number of people across the world injured by natural disasters. Number of people injured is defined as "People suffering from physical injuries, trauma or an illness requiring immediate medical assistance as a direct result of a disaster."

I.4 Number left homeless by natural disasters

The chart below shows the number of people across the world left homeless by natural disasters. Number of people homeless is defined as "Number of people whose house is destroyed or heavily damaged and therefore need shelter after an event."

I.5 Number affected by natural disasters

The chart below shows the number of people across the world affected by natural disasters. Number of people affected is defined as "People requiring immediate assistance during a period of emergency, i.e. requiring basic survival needs such as food, water, shelter, sanitation and immediate medical assistance."

I.6 Total number affected by natural disasters

The chart below shows the total number of people across the world affected by natural disasters. Total number of people affected is defined as "the sum of the injured, affected and left homeless after a disaster."

I.7 Economic costs of natural disasters

I.8 Number of people displaced from natural disasters

The following visualisation shows the number of people displaced internally (i.e. within a given country) from natural disasters. Note that these figures report on the basis of new cases of displaced persons: if someone is forced to flee their home from natural disasters more than once in any given year, they will be recorded only once within these statistics.

I.9 Weather events in the US

The following chart shows the declining death rate due to lightnings in the US.

In the first decade of the 20th century the average annual rate of death due to lightning was 4.5 per million in the US. In the first 15 years of the 21st century the death rate had declined to an average of 0.12 deaths per million. This is a 37-fold reduction in the likelihood of being killed by lightning in the US.

The following chart does not only show the death rate due to lightning, but the death rates due to 8 other weather events. None of these death rates shows a significant increase over time.

I.10 Earthquakes

World map of earthquakes by magnitude, since 1898 – UX.blog3

World Map of Earthquakes since 1898 by Magnitude – UX.blog0

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) publishes a high resolution poster – and the underlying data set – of "significant earthquakes" between 2150 BC and AD 2013 (here).

I.11 Volcanoes

Significant volcanic eruptions, 4360 B.C.E. - 2013 C.E. – NGDC4


I.12 Landslides

Global landslide mortality risk distribution – SEDAC (NASA)5

Global Landslide Mortality Risk Distribution – SEDAC (NASA)0

I.13 Droughts & Famines

I cover droughts and famines in the Our World in Data entry on famines.

I.14 Hurricanes, Tornados, and Cyclones

This site has a stunningly beautiful interactive world map that shows live wind patterns around the globe, and here is a beautifully animated US Wind Map.

Hurricane and tropical storm locations and intensities, since 1851 – UX Blog6

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms since 1851, Locations and Intensities – UX Blog

 US hurricane landfalls, 1900-2013 – Roger Pielke Jr.7

US Hurricane Landfalls 1900-2013 – Roger Pielke0

I.15 Lightning

World map of frequency of lightning strikes – Wikipedia (NASA data)8

World Map of Frequency of lightning strikes – Wikipedia [NASA data]0

I.16 Heat & Cold

Olivier Deschenes and Enrico Moretti (2009)9 study the effect of extreme weather on life expectancy in the US. The authors find that "both extreme heat and cold result in immediate increases in mortality. The increase in mortality following extreme heat appears mostly driven by near-term displacement, while the increase in mortality following extreme cold is long lasting."

II. Correlates, Determinants & Consequences

Populations in less developed countries – countries with a lower Human Development Index – are more affected more by natural disasters. This is shown in the following table.

Disaster-related casualties and costs, median annual values by HDI group, 1971–1990 and 1991–201010

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 09.55.08

The clear link between poverty and a higher death rate due to environmental causes is also shown in the following scatterplot. The definition of environmental causes however is very wide in this case and includes deaths caused by indoor air pollution, sunburn, pollution, and other “environmental causes”.

Correlation between multidimensional poverty (MPI) and deaths due to environmental causes (per million people) – Human Development Report (2011)11

Correlation between Multidimensional Poverty (MPI) and Deaths due to environmental causes (per million people) – Human Development Report (2011)

Anderson, Robert, Johnson, and Koyama (2013)12 study the factors that caused the persecution of minorities in pre-modern Europe and find that negative income shocks – due to weather shocks – increased the probability of a persecution.

Similar results are documented in the literature on the effect of droughts on political systems and wars (through economic output shocks).13

III. Data Sources

Wikipedia has several lists of disasters, and an overview of these lists can be found at List of Disasters.

III.1 Multiple Types of Disasters

EM-DAT – The International Disaster Database
  • Data: EM-DAT is a catalogue of disasters listing detailed information on natural catastrophes: droughts (famines), earthquakes, epidemics, extreme temperatures, floods, insect infestations, mass movement (dry & wet), storms, volcanos, and wildfires. There is also a data section on technological disasters.
  • Geographical coverage: Global – country and regional level (primarily cross-country data set, but also contains the name of the sub-national regions affected by disasters)
  • Time span: Since 1900
  • Available at: EM-DAT
  • Raw data has to be requested but the section on disaster trends encompasses a number of visualizations (time series and maps).

  • EM-DAT is maintained by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)

  • EM-DAT data on the annual number of deaths and number of affected by drought, epidemics, earthquakes, extreme temperature, flood, storm, tsunami, plane crash by country is available at Gapminder. Here is the data on the number of people killed in earthquakes during a year.

Earth Observatory by NASA – Natural Hazards
  • Data: Up to date information and satellite images on fires, storms, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, and droughts
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: Recent years – very up to date
  • Available at:

Natural Hazards Data – U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC)
  • Data: Data and maps on many natural hazards including cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, and wildfires. It includes the 'Global Significant Earthquake Database, 2150 B.C. to present' (5500 events) and 'The Significant Volcanic Eruption Database' and ‘Global Historical Tsunami Events and Runups’ among many other datasets.
  • Geographical coverage: Global – exact location
  • Time span: Millennia
  • Available at: Online here
  • Download maps as pdf or ArcIMS interactive maps, and data in tab-delimited data files or html.

Global Risk Data Platform
  • Data: Spatial data on tropical cyclones and related storm surges, drought, earthquakes, biomass fires, floods, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: Recent past
  • Available at: The website can be found here.
  • Users can visualize, download or extract data on past hazardous events, human & economical hazard exposure and risk from natural hazards.

Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) – by NASA

Center for Hazards & Risk Research at Columbia University
  • Data:
    • Hotspots: Risk levels calculated by combining hazard exposure with historical vulnerability for two indicators of elements at risk—gridded population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per unit area—for six major natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, floods, drought, and cyclones
    • Natural disaster profiles: Profiles for 13 countries provide information on sub-national areas at risk from natural hazards including cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and landslides.
  • Geographical coverage: Global for hotspots data

  • Time span: Recent past

  • Available at: Online here

III.2  Earthquakes

Global Earthquake Model (GEM)
  • Data: GEM Global Historical Earthquake Catalogue (1000-1900)

    and the ISC-GEM Global Instrumental Earthquake Catalogue (1900-2009)

  • Geographical coverage: Global

  • Time span: 1000 to today

  • Available at: Online here

III.3 Fire

ATSR World Fire Atlas – by the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • Data: Monthly global fire maps
  • Geographical coverage: Global

  • Time span: 1995 to now
  • Available at: Online at the website of ESA here

  • An overview of alternative fire data can be found here at the FAO website.

III.4 Tsunami

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network at the Earth Institute at Columbia University publishes data on the Population Affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami (December 2004).

III.5 Floods

Wikipedia has a List of Deadliest Floods and a List of Floods.

III.6 Hurricanes

Unisys Data on Hurricanes
  • Data: Data on the track of the storm plus a text-based table of tracking information. The table includes position in latitude and longitude, maximum sustained winds in knots, and central pressure in millibars.
  • Geographical coverage: Atlantic, East Pacific, West Pacific, South Pacific, South Indian, and North Indian
  • Time span: 1851 until now
  • Available at: Online here
  •  This data set was used by Dean Yang (2008) – Coping with Disaster: The Impact of Hurricanes on International Financial Flows, 1970-2002. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy. Volume 8, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, DOI: 10.2202/1935-1682.1903, June 2008. Online here.

National Climatic Data Center (NOAA)
  • Data: Data on the track of storms
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: 1848 until now
  • Available at: Online at NOAA here