Jul 25, 2020 - Science

Natural disaster deaths have fallen in 2020

Destruction from Cyclone Amphan in Kolkata, India in May.

Destruction from Cyclone Amphan in Kolkata, India in May. Photo: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New data indicates that the number of people killed in natural disasters in the first six months of 2020 was much lower than average figures over the past 30 years.

Why it matters: A combination of climate change and more people moving into risk-prone areas can intensify the effects of natural disasters. But better preparation and greater wealth can prevent deaths, even as the overall price of catastrophe rises.

Driving the news: The reinsurer Munich Re released data about the toll of natural disasters over the first six months of 2020.

  • While the financial losses were just slightly below the 30-year average over the same months, far fewer people than average 2,900 people total were killed by natural catastrophes.
  • That's 38% below the total from the first half of 2019, and nearly 90% below the 30-year average.
  • 2020's figures reflect a continued downward trend in deaths over the past few years.

Be smart: Much of what happens with natural disasters over a six-month window can be chalked up to randomness. But nimbler responses to disasters can reduce the number of deaths even in the event of a major catastrophe.

  • The biggest disaster so far in 2020 was Cyclone Amphan, which struck India in May. While the storm caused $11.5 billion in damages, only 135 people died — a number that likely would have been far higher decades ago.

Yes, but: The Atlantic hurricane season is nearing its peak months — and they're predicted to be busy. As the U.S. discovered in 2005 and 2012, one very bad storm can erase those positive trends.

Go deeper: Hurricane Hanna heads for southern Texas as Category 1

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