Has the chance of dying from extreme weather significantly declined over the past century?

Tuesday, November 23, 2021
By Jacob Alabab-Moser
This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.

Over the past century, there has been a substantial decline in deaths from extreme weather.

The average number of annual natural disaster–related deaths declined from between 400,000 and 500,000 in the early 1900s to less than 100,000 in the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, according to the International Disaster Database, which has cataloged more than 18,000 mass disasters dating back to 1900. Comparing deaths over longer periods of time is preferable to comparing between years since the number of deaths in any given year is highly variable, with low-frequency, high-impact events causing the most deaths.

The decline is attributable to improved disaster management and response systems rather than a decrease in extreme weather events. The number of natural disasters has actually risen by a factor of five over the past 50 years, causing a sevenfold increase in economic losses.

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