The answer might surprise you. This article considers the deadliest of each type of natural disaster, in the last 100 years, from 1912 to 2011 inclusive. The reason that we should look back to disasters from the not-so-distant past, is to gain some perspective on which disasters we might face in the future. We should prepare for the more likely disasters, as well as for less likely, but more severe ones.
|Deadliest Volcanic Eruptions:|
|23,000||Nevado del Ruiz||Colombia||1985|
A volcanic eruption is a very dramatic event. The more severe eruptions capture the attention of the world, can interfere with air travel, and can even cool the climate. The purported cause of ‘the year without a summer’ (1816) was the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora. Very many persons died due to food shortages caused by widespread crop failures in the northern hemisphere.
However, in the last 100 years, there have been only a few volcanic eruptions that caused over 1,000 deaths. By comparison, earthquakes are much more deadly, and also more frequent. Only a few of the deadliest earthquakes in the last 100 years is listed below.
The Indonesia earthquake includes deaths from the tsunami caused by the earthquake.
Deaths from earthquakes can easily exceed 100,000, but so can deaths from cyclones and hurricanes. “Depending on their location and strength, tropical cyclones are referred to by other names, such as hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, or simply as a cyclone. A tropical cyclone is generally referred to as a hurricane…in the Atlantic basin, and a cyclone in the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific.” (Wikipedia)
|Deadliest Tropical Cyclones:|
Deaths from tropical cyclones tend to be much higher in underdeveloped regions. Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst hurricanes in the U.S. in the last 100 years, is estimated to have caused between 1,000 and 2,000 deaths. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 killed an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people in Galveston, Texas. Hurricanes in the U.S. kill far fewer persons than in other regions of the world. So the severity of the natural disaster can depend on your location.
Natural disasters such as blizzards and avalanches typically kill hundreds of persons, not hundreds of thousands. Wildfires occasionally have killed just over a thousand persons, but typically the death toll is in the hundreds or less. Heat waves occasionally have killed tens of thousands of persons, but more often the number of fatalities is substantially lower. The worst tornadoes kill hundreds of victims, but not thousands.
Certain natural disasters are much more deadly in the developing world, than in developed nations such as the U.S. or Europe. Floods are not uncommon in the U.S., but large numbers of fatalities from floods are rare here.
If you don’t live near a volcano, you don’t worry about that type of disaster. If you don’t live in an earthquake-prone area, then you are less likely to be affected by that type of disaster. Even if your area is prone to flooding or cyclones (hurricanes), you will be much better off in a developed nation with that type of disaster.
Which type of natural disaster can kill vast numbers of persons regardless of the region or the wealth of the nation? Which natural disaster is worse than any of the above? — Disease epidemics.
In recorded human history, communicable diseases have killed more persons than all other natural disasters combined. The bubonic plague killed perhaps 100 million persons. Other diseases in human history have accumulated death tolls in the millions. Cholera killed over a million persons just in the 1800′s. So did the Russian flu during the same period. Cholera killed hundreds of thousands of persons in the early 1900′s.
The 1918 flu pandemic killed perhaps 75 million persons worldwide. An outbreak of Asian flu in the 1950′s killed 2 million. And the Hong Kong flu killed about a million persons in the late 1960′s. The AIDS pandemic is estimated to have killed 25 million persons so far. These kinds of numbers are hard to comprehend. In the last 100 years, disease epidemics have killed more persons than any other type of natural disaster.
Antibiotics have resulted in far fewer deaths from bacterial disease, in the last 75 years or so. But viruses continue to be problematic. Anti-viral compounds are far less effective than antibiotics. And some bacteria have developed resistance to multiple types of antibiotics; they are called multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria. The press calls them “superbugs”. Even hospitals have difficult treating in-patients who are infected with this type of bacteria.
So, as a society, we are not out of danger from a widespread pandemic that could kill millions of persons. This type of natural disaster failed to materialize, despite all the warnings in 2009 over H1N1 (‘swine flu’). But medical experts were not wrong about the possibility of great harm from a new version of flu virus. There are few drugs that could be used, and they are not very effective. If a vast pandemic of a more-deadly type of flu were to strike, even the drugs with a minimal effectiveness would be difficult or impossible to obtain.
If you are preparing for various types of disasters, even if you live at the foot of a volcano in an earthquake and hurricane prone area, a disease epidemic should be at the top of the list. (List of Natural Disasters by Death Toll)