The International Disaster Database

By Paul Homewood


Ben Pile’s post  on Nick Stern’s ransom demand mentioned that it included this chart, supposedly showing climate disasters on the increase:




It is based on the International Disaster Database, which I wrote about last year. My post is worth revisiting:






The BBC ran a piece on natural disasters yesterday, which I have to say was a bit more balanced than most of their output on climate change.

It discussed claims that the number of natural disasters has been rapidly increasing in recent decades.

They quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying last week:

The number of natural disasters has nearly quadrupled since 1970.

According to the BBC, similar stories have cropped up across the media, from The Economist to Fox News.

These claims apparently originate from an Oxfam report in 2007, which in turn relied on data from CRED (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters).

To be fair to the BBC programme, it did raise question marks over the consistency of the data over time, but failed to really push this home. As even CRED readily admit, many more disasters get to be reported nowadays for all sorts of reasons. Instead the programme claimed that climate change could also be responsible for some of the increase.

So, let’s look at CRED, and how their data stacks up.

In 2004, they published this report:





It included this comment:



And continued:



[EM-DAT,  the Emergency Events Database, was launched by CRED in 1988.]



Their graph makes all of this abundantly clear:


Nobody in their right mind would believe that there were hardly any natural disasters in the first half of the 20thC. Many disasters happened in the past, but which don’t appear in the official stats.

A clue to this is that most of the apparent increase is due to small disasters:




In fact, the criteria for what constitutes a “disaster” is set at a very low level indeed:



Thousands of such small events would have escaped official notice in the past.

There is one more clue in the 2003 report:



While the number of reported disasters has remained pretty much flat from disaster agencies and governments, there was a huge increase from specialised agencies in the 1998 – 2000 period, along with a steady increase from insurance companies.

This is clear evidence that the apparent trend is solely due to how the data is collected.



Now fast forward to their Annual Report for 2006:





Note that CRED have only been publishing annual stats since 1998. Although the EM-DAT was begun in 1988, it would appear that the data can only replied upon since 1998.

We then find this graph:




So although the number of natural disasters appears to have doubled since 1987, in reality there was a big step change between 1997 and 2000.

Coincidence? I think not.

Again, nobody could seriously be expected to believe that the number of actual disasters suddenly shot up in 1998, and then stayed at that level.

We are entitled to be even more suspicious when we examine the number of victims (deaths plus affected):


The linear trend is highly misleading because of the anomalous spike in 2002. In reality, the trend is flat, and certainly does not support the message that the number of disasters is increasing.



If we look at their most recent report for 2015, we can see that the number of disasters has actually been trending downwards since 2000.




In summary, there is absolutely no evidence that natural disasters have become more common since 1970.

EM-DAT was specifically set up to provide accurate data on disasters, something that has improved as time has gone on. Prior to that, aid agencies and the like were too busy on the ground to bother with collating numbers.

EM-DAT may be a worthwhile exercise, but it should not be used for analysis of long term trends.


September 7, 2018 at 06:12AM

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