It’s fair to say that the US will remember 2017 for two things: political shitstorms and literal storms. Over the past year, North America has had more than its fair share of extreme weather events, from an onslaught of hurricanes and blazing wildfires to droughts and floods.
However, outside of North America, the world has actually had an unusually chilled out year in regards to catastrophic natural disasters.
New research by the International Disaster Database shows that 2017 witnessed considerably less natural disasters and far fewer disaster-related deaths than average. Worldwide, there was a 30 percent decrease in the number of incidents and a third or fewer people victimized or killed by climate-related hazards.
“This has been a particularly quiet year,” Debarati Guha-Sapir, head of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, told the Associated Press. “The thing is not to be… complacent about this.”
It wasn’t all rosy, however. The cost of damages caused by natural disasters saw a 40 percent increase compared to the past two decades, racking up a total repair bill of $140 billion. This is most likely because disasters can often cost more depending on where they hit, such as urban areas in wealthier countries where asset values are higher.
The incidents with the greatest economic impact were a series of storms – including Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Ophelia, and Hurricane Harvey – that ravaged the Caribbean and the US during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.
Certain natural disasters did increase in 2017 too. For one, wet landslides were on the up. The most poignant example of this is the landslide in Sierra Leone that killed nearly 1,000 people in August 2017.
Wildfires were also more prolific than previous years, killing nearly double the number of people they have within the past two decades. In fact, the figure is likely to be even higher than this because the report was published while the California wildfires were still burning.
It’s hard to say why the number of natural disasters was down overall this year or why the US was hit so hard. However, it is most likely just statistical chance, the researchers say. It's thought that the number of deaths dropped because authorities were better prepared. Then again, there's also an element of chance in this too.
On top of all this, another piece of research has shown that 2017 was the safest year ever for commercial passenger airlines. So, although many of us are glad to see the back of 2017, just remember it wasn't all bad.