Asian and Pacific countries continue to
suffer disproportionately from disasters
caused by natural hazards. Disasters cause
death, economic and environmental
damage, and severe setbacks for social
development. Recent large-scale disasters,
including the devastating earthquake
and tsunami in Japan of March 2011,
highlight the value of national preparedness
The Asian and Pacific region is vulnerable to
many types of disasters, including floods,
cyclones, earthquakes, drought, storm surges and
tsunamis. During the past decade, on average,
more than 200 million people were affected and
more than 70,000 people were killed by natural
disasters annually. Those figures represent 90%
and 65% of the world totals, respectively.
Figure II.20 – Average annual population
affected and killed by natural disasters, world
Economic damages were proportionately smaller
during the same period, at 38% of the world total
(based on damages in 2005 US dollars).
However, even that proportion exceeds the world
average in terms of the Asian and Pacific share
of global production or GDP, which is currently
about 29% in constant 2005 US dollars.
Figure II.21 – Average annual economic damage
for natural disaster, world regions, 2001-2010
Asian and Pacific countries have a high
vulnerability to the impacts of disasters. With
increasing urbanization, migration patterns and
population growth in general, people are
occupying high-risk areas in greater numbers
than ever, increasing their vulnerability to disaster
Disasters do not respect borders or distinguish
between income levels; however, the effect of
disasters on human lives tends to be the lowest
in high-income countries. In Asia-Pacific high
income countries, about 1 person in every 1,000
people was affected by disasters and 1 in
1 million died during the 10 years from 2001 to
2010; in low-income countries nearly 30 in
1,000 people were affected and 52 in 1 million
people killed. More people in the lower-middle
income group were affected than people in the
low-income countries, although the mortality
ratio in the lower-middle group was lower.
Figure II.22 – Affected people from natural
disasters on total population, annual average
Figure II.23 – Economic damage from natural disasters, annual average 2001-2010
Assessing economic impact of natural disasters: A mix of stock-and-flow indicators
Natural disasters affect the economy immediately and directly, as well as having a long-term impact. In most disasters,
the bulk of immediate damage comes from destroyed assets (stock), such as buildings, infrastructure, inventories
and growing crops. Disasters also generate short- and long-term losses in economic activity and income (flow) in
the affected area, as people and companies lose their means of production and access to markets.
Economic activity picks up gradually throughout the years of reconstruction, starting with emergency response and
humanitarian assistance. Capital assets can be regenerated through reconstruction investment, which generates income
as the work progresses.
For purposes of national and international use, disaster damages are commonly presented in relation with GDP.
The ratio of a stock indicator (assets accumulated over a long period and suddenly damaged in the affected region)
to a flow indicator (goods and services produced in the whole country within a year) is calculated in order to relate
the scale of different disasters among different countries rather than for its sound methodological connection.
Research findings regarding the long-term impact of disasters on GDP are mixed. In some cases disasters initially
dented the GDP but eventually brought benefits such as agricultural production, industrial output and capital
formation picked up in greater scale and volume than before. Climatic disasters such as storms and droughts had,
according to one study,1 moderate but negative, permanent impact on income growth (amounting to less than 1%)
and on real GDP per capita; whereas geological disasters such as earthquakes did not have a statistically significant
impact on output.
Considering numbers of people affected alone,
the two subregions that suffered the greatest
impacts are East and North-East Asia and South
and South-West Asia. Between 2001 and 2010,
the combined totals of victims in those two
subregions were 94% of all those affected by
natural disasters in Asia and the Pacific.
In South-East Asia, many more people died as
a result of natural disasters from 2001 to 2010
than during the previous decade, mainly because
of two extreme events: the Indian Ocean
earthquake and tsunami of 2004 and Cyclone
Nargis in Myanmar in 2008.
From 2001 to 2010, the proportion of those
affected among the total population was highest
in East and North-East Asia: 86 out of 1,000,
compared with just 3 out of 1,000 in both North
and Central Asia and in the Pacific. The number
and severity of disasters caused by natural hazards
varies from year to year, while the selection of
time frame is an artefact that affects reporting.
For example, in the Pacific subregion from 2001
to 2010, an average of 200,000 people were
affected by disasters annually; however, a closer
look at the annual data reveals that 500,000 were
affected in 2010 while only 9,000 in 2006.
Figure II.24 – Proportion of people affected and
killed by natural disasters, Asia and the Pacific
subregions, annual averages 1991-2000 and
Recent history shows that low-income countries
can reduce loss of life with effective preparations
against natural disasters. Cyclone Sidr in
Bangladesh killed far fewer people in 2007 than
did Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar a year later. The
economic damage in the case of Bangladesh was
also much less than that in Myanmar.
The year 2010 was particularly bad in terms of
the number and severity of disasters in the region.
Wildfires and extreme temperatures swept
through the Russian Federation, contributing to
the nearly 56,000 deaths due to natural disaster
in the Russian Federation, while the floods in
Pakistan raised deaths due to natural disaster to
over 2,100 with over 18 million people affected.
The record floods in Pakistan contributed to the
large economic damages and losses experienced
by Pakistan in 2010 (US$7.4 billion) making it
the most costly year with respect to natural
disasters in at least 20 years. In China,
earthquakes, storms, floods, landslides and other
disasters killed a total of over 7,000 people
and affected 145 million people. The Pacific
subregion was severely affected in 2009 when
wildfires swept through Australia and an
earthquake of magnitude 8.1 hit Samoa, followed
by a tsunami.
Preparedness saves the nation: Comparison of differential impacts of cyclones
in Bangladesh (2007) and Myanmar (2008)
||Bangladesh: Cyclone Sidr, 2007
||Myanmar: Cyclone Nargis, 2008
|Tidal wave (and storm surge)
||5 to 6 metres
||3.5 to 7.0 metres
|Population “severely” affected
|| 2.4 million
|Total losses and damage
|Human Development Index (2007)
|Per capita GDP (2007 values)
|Population below poverty line (2004)
|Source: USAID, 2008. Available from www.ausaid.gov.au/hottopics/pdf/AIDRF_Feasibility_Study_Report_annex6-10.pdf.