From the Field

The 10 most expensive natural disasters since 1980

The top 10 most costly natural disasters since 1980 around the world.

While natural disasters killed fewer people in 2012 than in years past, they made for more expensive clean-up. For the third straight year, the global economic impact totaled more than $100 billion. The 310 reported disasters affected 106 million people and caused about $138 billion in damages.

Estimates are based primarily on insured losses in developed countries and do not reflect losses in developing nations.

Tallying roughly $50 billion, the cost of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in the United States accounted for more than one-third of the economic impact of natural disasters worldwide in 2012.

About 1,900 people died, for example, when Typhoon Bopha decimated parts of the Philippines in December. The economic impact was about $1.7 billion, but much more uninsured property was destroyed.

“Globally, most victims this year were from floods and droughts, which were responsible for nearly 80% of all victims,” says Debby Guha-Sapir, director of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the University of Louvain, Belgium. “But as they occur in poorer countries, the economic losses are low. Even so, the floods of Pakistan cost nearly 2% of its annual GDP, which is a lot to recover.”

Bopha was the deadliest and Sandy the most expensive, but neither was considered a mega-disaster, like the 2010 Haiti earthquake or the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Top 10 most expensive disasters since 1980 (in U.S. billions adjusted for inflation):

Disaster/Country Year Cost
1. Tohoku earthquake/tsunami  (Japan) 2011 $214
2. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma (U.S.) 2005 $182
3. Kobé earthquake  (Japan) 1995 $150
4. Sichuan earthquake  (China) 2008 $90
5. Naples earthquake  (Italy) 1980 $55
6. Hurricane Sandy  (U.S.) 2012 $50
7. Northridge earthquake  (U.S.) 1994 $46
8. Niigata-ken earthquake  (Japan) 2004 $34
9. Maule region earthquake  (Chile) 2010 $31
10. Izmit earthquake  (Turkey) 1999 $27

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