The year that shook the rich: a review of natural disasters in 2011

The year that shook the rich: a review of natural disasters in 2011

From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to fourteen disasters causing over a billion dollars each in damage in the United States, 2011 was particularly damaging for developed countries. Reviewing 2011’s natural disasters, this report analyses the range of disasters and lessons to be learned from those that occurred in developed countries.

Key lessons:

  • 2011 was the most expensive year in terms of disaster losses in history, mostly because of a spate of disasters affecting developed countries. Globally, the economic cost of disasters in 2011 was $380 billion, of which $210 billion were the result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. This was 72 percent higher than the losses in 2005, the second costliest year in history of disaster-related losses
  • developed countries were particularly hard-hit by disasters in 2011 as evidenced by floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand, an earthquake/tsunami in Japan and a series of disasters in the United States. While natural disasters result in higher economic losses in rich countries, fewer people tend to be affected and loss of life is less than in developing countries
  • the post-tsunami Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan poses serious questions about preparedness for technological and industrial accidents caused by natural hazards as well as questions about the safety of nuclear technology
  • several positive trends in international humanitarian response were evident in the course of 2011, including promising developments in international disaster law, greater emphasis on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and better communications during crises, including the use of social media in disaster response
  • the first famine in twenty years was declared in Somalia in mid-2011, demonstrating the deadly interaction of conflict, political instability and drought that can result in a catastrophe with high human casualties
  • the interconnections between disasters (especially mega-disasters), media coverage and humanitarian funding means that humanitarian funding tends to be directed toward disasters that have higher media coverage rather than to those with disaster-affected populations in greater need of assistance
  • global population is ageing at an unprecedented scale and yet the special needs of older people in emergencies are often neglected. In disasters such as the earthquake/tsunami in Japan and Hurricane Katrina, older people made up a disproportionate percentage of casualties. Given the fact that developing countries are also experiencing an increase in the percentage of elderly people, it is likely that a lack of focus on older persons in all phases, from planning to emergency management to post-disaster reconstruction, can result in higher fatalities among older people, long-term chronic health issues, psychosocial trauma and isolation. Treating older people simply as “normal” disaster victims denies
    the specific vulnerabilities that many older people face
  • more work is needed to recognize the positive contributions which older people can make in reducing the risks from disasters, in disaster response and in recovery and reconstruction
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