Disasters, Disaster Deaths and People Affected by Disasters in the Caribbean Region
By: Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett and Julian Coetzee
The Caribbean region is a collection of over 7000 islands (Caribbeanislands.com, 2021). The region is highly prone to natural hazards. By reviewing 20-years of data, this paper identifies the number of disasters, disaster deaths and people affected by disasters in the 25 countries of the Caribbean region. It is important to understand the number of disasters, disaster deaths and people affected by disasters to put effective mitigation measures in place so that the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’s first two targets can be met by 2030. The first two targets are: to substantially reduce disaster deaths (Target A) and the number of people affected by disasters (Target B) by 2030 (UN, 2015).
The data for this study were gathered by reviewing the emergencies database (EM-DAT) run by the Centre on the Epidemiology of Disasters. Particular attention was paid to disasters classified as ‘natural disasters’. The timeline for this review was 20 years (2001-2020) and it covered 25 countries. See Table 1 for the names of 25 countries and the number of disasters.
Limitations of data: The EM-DAT did not include countries such as Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Curaçao – amongst others. There are also discrepancies of data. For instance, the number of homeless and economic losses recorded for the 2010 Haiti earthquake by EM-DAT do not match with other sources.
It was found that over a 20-year period, 351 disasters and 241,244 disaster deaths were recorded (see Table 2 below). From 2011 to 2020, the number of disaster deaths has been decreasing in the 25 countries listed on EM-DAT. The number of people affected by disasters has steadily been increasing, and this is measured against the number of people who had been either injured, affected, and/or homeless. Equally the economic losses have been increasing at a steady rate, with the highest economic loss being recorded between 2016 and 2020. Of all the disasters, Hurricane Maria in 2017 led to the highest displacement and negative economic impact.
Based on the findings, the number of disasters has reduced over 20 years. Between 2001 and 2010, 207 disasters were recorded, whereas 144 disasters were recorded in the period between 2011 and 2020. In line with the decline in the number of disasters, the number of disaster deaths has declined from 7,141 in the period 2001-2005 to 1,621 in the period 2016-2020 (Target A). On the contrary, the number of people affected by disasters has doubled when it is compared with the two periods 2001 to 2005 and 2016 to 2020 (Target B). This is a cause for concern as the affected people can be pushed into poverty, ill health, homelessness, including indirect deaths. Haiti is a case in point. It experienced the highest number of disasters (81) as well as truly devastating ones.
To meet the Sendai Framework’s first two Targets by 2030, targeted intervention (both internal and external) is recommended for the countries such as Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. These countries bore the highest burden of deaths and losses, as such, they need to step up their disaster risk mitigation measures through disaster resilient infrastructure, insurance, implementing building codes, education – among other things. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Authority, international and non-governmental organisations also need to support these countries for the same. It is also recommended that the Sendai Framework’s first two targets are either revised or modified to reflect the true depth of disaster losses for these countries, and for other low-and middle-income countries which are highly prone to natural hazards and lack the capacity to cope and recover without support.
Caribbeanislands.com (2021). The Caribbean Islands. Available at: https://www.caribbeanislands.com/ [Accessed 5 Dec. 2021].
EM-DAT (2021). Data. [online] Emdat.be. Available at: https://public.emdat.be/data [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021].
UN (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Geneva: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). Available at: http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/43291 [Accessed 5 Dec. 2021].
We would like to thank Professors Peter Jackson and Michael Petterson, Dr Christian Morgner and Mr Krishna Clarke for reviewing this paper. Most importantly, we would like to thank Mr Krishna Clarke in particular for his insightful and constructive comments to the initial version of this article.