Close to 5 lakh lives were lost in India between 1990 & 2019 due to forces of nature. Among these, the most lives were lost because of lightning. Even in the year 2019, 35% of the deaths due to forces of nature were because of lightning. Here is a detailed review of the data on deaths due to forces of nature.
In 2019 alone, over 4.21 Lakh accidental deaths have been registered across the country, reveals the NCRB’s Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report of 2019, that was released recently. Of this, 8145 deaths, amounting to nearly 2% of the total accidental deaths were due to forces of nature like earthquakes, floods, and, epidemics, to name a few. As compared to the previous year, the number of accidental deaths as a result of forces of nature has increased by over 18% from 6,891 in 2018 to 8,145 in 2019.
The maximum number of deaths caused by forces of nature was reported in Bihar with 1,521 deaths followed closely by Odisha with 1,466 deaths. These were the only two states to have recorded more than 1000 deaths each because of forces of nature. Together, the two states accounted for more than 35% of the deaths attributed to forces of nature. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand had reported between 500 to 800 deaths each in the year 2019.
More than 80% such deaths in Chhattisgarh & Tamil Nadu states were due to lightning in 2019
In Bihar, nearly one-third (480) of such deaths recorded in 2019 were due to floods. A further 400 deaths were caused by lightning in Bihar in 2019. In fact, lightning was the reason behind more than 80% of the total accidental deaths because of forces of nature in Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu. In Goa, two of the three deaths reported in this category were due to lightning. Likewise, nearly 62% of the accidental deaths due to forces of nature in Telangana were attributed to heat stroke.
Lighting caused 35% deaths because of forces of nature in 2019
In 2019, more than 35% (2876) of the deaths due to forces of nature were due to lightning. Heat/Sun stroke was the reason behind nearly 16% (1274) of the deaths. Floods were the reason behind about 12% (948) of the deaths and exposure to cold resulted in about 10% (796) of the deaths in this category. Forest fires, Cyclones, Torrential Rains, Epidemic, Earthquake, Avalanches, and Tornado together resulted in 163 deaths. Other causes, apart from those mentioned here, were the reason behind 1,824 deaths (22%).
Altogether, 77% of those who died due to forces of nature were males (6301). A total of 1,833 females and 11 transgender persons constituted the remaining victims. Except in the case of forest fires, the number of men who died due to any of the causes was higher than the number of female victims. The data for transgenders was incorporated starting 2014.
4.96 lakh people lost lives to natural calamities in 30 years, majority were Male
In the last 30 years between 1990 & 2019, around 4.96 lakh cases have been recorded as accidental deaths due to forces of nature. Looking at the cause wise deaths, (causes for which data is available), lightning has claimed the greatest number of lives- nearly 13%, amounting to 64,277 lives. This means an average of 6 people have lost their lives to lightning daily in the last 30 years. This is higher than the number of deaths due to floods, landslides, and exposure to cold together in the last 30 years. Close to 6% (27,472) of the deaths due to forces of nature since 1990 are because of heatstroke, and 5% (22,961) are due to floods. Exposure to cold has claimed 21,236 lives (4.2%) and landslides have claimed 18,372 lives (3.6%).
Unlike pointed out by studies, it is observed that in almost all the cases, the proportion of male victims is higher than that of women victims. In the case of exposure to cold, 83% of those who died were male while 78% of those who succumbed to heatstroke were male. In the case of lightning and floods, male victims comprised of 71% and 70% respectively. Only in the cases of cyclone (55% male and 45% female) and landslides (60% male and 40% female), the proportion of male victims is below 70%.
It is only in the case of earthquake, as studies have also proven, women are more vulnerable. Data of deaths because of earthquake is available since 1995, and in these 25 years, 56% of those who lost their lives in earthquakes were female.
An average of 45 lives were lost daily day due to forces of nature in the last 30 years
In the last three decades, an average of 45 lives were lost daily to forces of nature. Although there is no specific trend in the number of deaths in this category due to its varying frequency and intensity each year, an overall picture painted by the numbers in the NCRB’s data shows that a greater number of deaths were recorded between 1996 to 2014. Considering the average number of deaths in 5-year periods, the number of deaths increased from 5,751 between 1990-1994 to 18,377 between 1995-1999 and further to 20,926 between 2000-2004. Between 2005-2009, the average number of deaths was the highest at 23,064. The average dropped to 22,935 deaths between 2010-2014 and further dropped to 7,916 deaths between 2015-19, the lowest average in more than 20 years. The reasons for a higher average between 2000-2004 are the massive Bhuj Earthquake in Gujarat in 2001 and the Tsunami in 2004 along the south-east coast of India.
The trend in the number of deaths because of various forces of nature is plotted in the chart below. Overall, the number of deaths due to lightning, heat stroke, and exposure to cold has increased. In the case of floods, number of deaths decreased from 2014 to 2018 but increased again in 2019, when nearly 13 states were flooded in the country. Deaths due to forest fires have also declined in the last few years.
Extreme weather events are on the rise
Extreme weather events have become frequent in the past few years, such as heavy rainfall leading to floods, severe heat waves, and cyclones. The Indian Meteorological Department looks after the monitoring, detection and forecasting of weather and climate including early warning for severe weather events such as cyclones, heavy rainfall etc. Similarly, National Centre for Seismology (NCS), under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), does monitoring of earthquake activity in and around the country on 24X7 basis. Similar warning system for forest fires is also present in India. An early warning system for generation and dissemination of information on the possible calamities or extreme weather events helps people and authorities to be prepared and take necessary measures to reduce the loss of lives & property to the best possible extent. At the same time, activities affecting the environment such as construction in coastal zones, clearing of forests, encroachment of eco-sensitive land, etc. must be kept in check to reduce such extreme events.
232 Billion US Dollars lost in 2019 due to natural disasters
According to the annual Weather, Climate Catastrophe Insight for 2019 report, globally, a total of USD 232 billion was lost to natural disasters in 2019 alone. India was also leading with 1,750 deaths due to monsoons, termed as ‘the deadliest in 2019’, according to the report released in February this year. Losses in India were to the tune of USD 10 billion in 2019 due to floods.
Not only do natural disasters result in deaths, but also have adverse social and economic impact. The world is staring at record economic losses & the loss of human lives in 2020 because of the unprecedented pandemic coupled with a range of other disasters.