Just a few months into 2010, and Mother Nature has delivered a slew of costly and deadly natural disasters. From the catastrophic Haiti and Chilean earthquakes to the U.S. blizzard that descended on Washington, D.C., last month, which was mostly just inconvenient by comparison, 2010 is already above average in terms of natural-disaster casualties.
In comparison to previous years, the number of casualties from natural disasters in 2010, which is already well above 200,000, is outside the norm. Yet as in other disastrous years, the high toll this year is due largely to a single event.
Over the decade from 2000 to the end of 2009, the yearly average was 78,000, according to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). For the 1990s, the average was 43,000, and the 1980s was 75,000. Disaster experts say the rise in tragedy is at least partly due to increases in urban populations.
Last year was below the decadal average with 10,416 natural disaster-related deaths, according to the ISDR, with most resulting from a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia on Sept. 30.
The Haiti earthquake is responsible for the majority of the 2010 disaster death toll. With at least 220,000 deaths out of a population of around just 9 million, the number of fatalities almost matched those experienced during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which struck a far larger population, said Kathleen Tierney, a professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This proportionally high number of causalities has led some to call the Haiti earthquake the “worst natural disaster to occur in modern times,” Tierney said.
“The Haiti earthquake is a true catastrophe of a type that we really haven’t seen historically, in terms of recorded history, in terms of its impact on a single society,” Tierney said.
This will also turn out to be a costly year at the hands of Mother Nature. The Haiti earthquake alone is estimated to cost $8 billion to $14 billion, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.