Natural Disasters

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 18:28
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Society    Topic: Natural Disasters

Recent years have seen a series of major natural disasters, including the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, the earthquake in the Himalayas and the hurricanes in the southern United States in 2005. Already a few years ago, the insurance industry and UNEP had predicted that the rising number of natural disasters linked to global warming and climate change could cost US$ 130 billion per year within ten years. That estimate may have been conservative, as the damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the USA alone in 2005 has been estimated at $200 billion. This should be compared with weather-related losses which averaged $10 billion per year in the first half of the 1990s, and were only $14 billion for the entire 1980s (Brown, et al. 1996). It is only natural that the insurance industry is now calling for action on global warming and is supporting both research and management actions to understand and if possible reduce the risks. The economic significance of the environmental impacts of our unsustainable consumption patterns should not be underestimated.

The threat from natural disasters to human life and to sustainable economic development was not appreciated in 1992, nor adequately addressed in Agenda 21 adopted that year at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The 1994 World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction 'recognized the rapidly rising world-wide toll on human and economic losses due to natural disasters', and that 'sustainable development cannot be achieved in many countries without adequate measures to reduce disaster losses, and that there are close linkages between disaster losses and environmental degradation' (Yokohama Strategy, 1994).

The Barbados Conference on Small Island Developing States (1994) also emphasized the extreme environmental and economic vulnerability of such States to natural and environmental disasters, which may be increasing because of global environmental change.


Brown, Lester R., et al. 1996. State of the World 1996. Norton, New York.

Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World. 1994. World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction, Yokohama, Japan, 23-27 May 1994. International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Geneva.

Article last updated 26 February 2006

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