EM-DAT Disaster Database Creating Data Disasters

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen — 11 October 2021

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization (UN WMO) just released a 90-page report titled “WMO Atlas Of Mortality And Economic Losses From Weather, Climate And Water Extremes (1970–2019)” [ pdf here ].   The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction ( UNDRR ) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters ( CRED ) jointly released a report on the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, October 13th 2020,  a 28-page report titled “The human cost of disasters: an overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019)” [ pdf here ]. 

Both of these reports themselves are “Data Disasters” – in that the data upon which they are based is so flawed that it is not fit for purpose.  The flaw is, or should be, obvious to anyone even glancing at the data. 

The Human Cost… report claims to “confirm… how extreme weather events have come to dominate the disaster landscape in the 21st century.”  And “In the period 2000 to 2019, there were 7,348 major recorded disaster events….This is a sharp increase over the previous twenty years. Between 1980 and 1999, 4,212 disasters…”

The WMO Atlas of Mortality… report insists that “The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.”

Both reports depend heavily, almost exclusively, on what is known as the CRED EM-DAT disaster database.  The database is very deep, covers a lot of informational territory and as a composite looks like this rendering from Our World In Data:

You can find this image here.  The same page allows you to download the underlying data and see the data in tabular form.  The data runs through 2019 as the last complete, verified year in the data set. 

Some readers may remember that I wrote about this same image a couple of years ago, more than once.  Why?  Because there is something so obviously wrong with the data that I could not leave the question alone.  I lived through the period of 1970-1999. I was an adult. I generally followed world events.  I traveled and sailed all over southern Europe, North Africa, and the Caribbean.  I am no genius, but I was quite sure that if disasters had been quadrupling all around me, I would have at least been aware of the fact.   But, I hadn’t seen any quadrupling of natural disasters.

So, full of stubborn hubris, I emailed the database manager at CRED/EM-DAT.  She is Regina Below.  She was very helpful and very responsive.  I will simply paste in a copy of the pertinent parts of our email exchange in 2019:

My emailed question:

Subject : EM-DAT DB — “Reported” disasters

 Dear EM-DAT,

I am a freelance journalist and write on science topics.  I have looked at some of your data, such as represented here:

[ image above but only through 2018 ]

The data shown does not align well with my understanding of Global Natural Disasters, in that it shows a HUGE increase from 1970 to about 1998.  My guess would be that 1970 to 1998 represents an increase in REPORTING and not in actual Natural Disasters. 

Can you confirm this please — or correct me if I am wrong.

Thank you,  Kip Hansen

EM-DAT’s Reply:

Date:    Fri, 23 Aug 2019 13:54:38 +0000

From:   Regina Below <regina.below@uclouvain.be>

To:        kipxxxx@xxxx

Dear Mr Hansen,

Thank for your e-mail.  You are right, it is an increase in the reporting.  I share your e-mail with your director, Prof. D. Guha-Sapir, who may want to add her input.

Best regards,  Regina

So, the graphic shown at Our World In Data should be properly annotated as follows:

Both of the recent United Nations reports compare decadal data:

“The number of disasters, related deaths and economic losses recorded in the database were assessed for the 50-year period as well as by decade (1970–1979, 1980–1989, 1990–1999, 2000–2009 and 2010–2019) to highlight significant disasters and areas of disparity, as well as any discernible trends over time.” (WMO Atlas of Mortality…)

(UNDRR, “Human Cost of Disasters…”)

Both Regina Below and her Director at CRED EM-DAT were reviewers of the WMO report:

“The following people are also thanked for their reviews of the publication: Regina Below (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT)),… Debarati Guha (CRED EM-DAT)…”   (WMO Atlas of Mortality…)

Regina Below is the EM-DAT Database Manager and Professor Debarati Guha-Sapir was the Director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) until recently.   Both of these professionals know that the data before 1999-2000 or so is INVALID – in that “it is an increase in the reporting” and does not represent an increase in natural disasters

Regina Below clearly explained this in her August 2019 email to me.   She copied her email to Guha-Sapir at the time.  So, Guha-Sapir, also knew.  Anyone in the field of disasters or disaster relief would have known this – it would be impossible to not know it. 

Yet elite experts write huge official reports from the United Nations on data that is known and reported openly to be only a reflection of improvements in reporting mechanisms — using this data as if it were real-world data about real-world disasters.  And the reports use this false, misleading data to spread the false impression that “things are getting worse” and thus instilling fear in the hearts and minds of a trusting population. 

The truth is that things are getting BETTER.

Even the EM-DAT database (corrupted by failure to identify shortcomings of early data) shows:

Deaths by decade

The EM-DAT record reveals that deaths decreased almost threefold by weather-, climate- and water-related disasters from 1970 to 2019. Death tolls have fallen decade by decade – from over 50 thousand deaths in the 1970s to less than 20 thousand in the 2010s. The 1970s and 1980s reported an average of 170 related deaths per day. In the 1990s, that average fell by one third to 90 related deaths per day, then continued to fall in the 2010s to 40 related deaths per day (Figure 4). (WMO Atlas of Mortality…)

How does that play out?  Early data is MISSING a great deal of data on deaths in the 1970s-1990s (but gradually better closer to the present) but even the small proportion of actual deaths reported in the ‘70s and ‘80s are GREATER than more accurately reported death counts since the turn of the century!  This means that things are not only better, they are far better.

The following portion of the EM-DAT Natural Disasters dataset is reliable:

All-natural disasters are trending down, total natural disasters are trending down. 

♫ I’ve got to admit it’s getting better,

a little better every day ♫

# # # # #

Authors Comment:

The people are being fooled by this nonsense that is constantly being pumped out by journalists who have forgotten (or choose to ignore) their sacred duty to their readers and listeners.    The people are being fooled by scientists who seem to value the prestige and financial/professional rewards of being on the agreeable consensus-side of scientific controversies more than their personal integrity and their duty to disinterestedly seek and report the truth. And far, far too many in both professions are just “Going Along to Get Along”.

If you want to meet someone who values their commitment to science and its Ideals, attend any public appearance by Willie Soon…or Will Happer…or David Legates…or Tim Ball…or Pat Michaels…or William Briggs…or Christopher Monckton…this list is far longer, these are just the off the top of my head, some that I’ve met in the last week. 

I just want you to know that if you are fighting the good fight for realism about the Climate – the good fight for freedom of speech – the good fight to protect your children from indoctrination in public schools – the good fight for our rights and responsibilities under the US Constitution and their equivalents in your own nation –>

Don’t Give Up!

# # # # #

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October 21, 2021 at 04:37PM

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