The Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report (ADSI) of the NCRB provides data on accidental deaths attributable to the forces of nature like earthquakes, floods, lightning, and epidemics, to name a few. Analysis indicates that the NCRB & Jal Shakti Ministry provide different numbers on Flood related fatalities.
The National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) 55th edition of the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report (ADSI) covering the calendar year 2021 was released recently. The report provides information on the deaths due to accidents, which have been classified into two broad groups – accidental deaths due to causes attributable to nature and unnatural accidental deaths. Accidental deaths attributable to the forces of nature are those due to earthquakes, floods, lightning, and epidemics, to name a few. As per the 2021 report, over 3.98 lakh accidental deaths were reported, of which 7,126 (1.8%) deaths were due to forces of nature.
On average, 44 people lost their lives per day due to forces of nature between 1990 and 2021
Between 1990 and 2021, more than 5.11 lakh deaths were recorded due to the forces of nature. On average, 44 persons lost their lives per day to the forces of nature. About 72% of the victims were males, and 27.8% were females. Data on transgenders was included in 2014 only, and account for a minuscule share of victims.
There is no specific trend in deaths due to forces of nature since 1990. This is because of the varying frequency and intensity of natural calamities. However, in the 20 years period between 1996 and 2015, over 4.33 lakh deaths were recorded, out of the total 5.11 lakh deaths reported in 32 years. That is, nearly 85% of the deaths due to forces of nature between 1990 and 2021, took place between 1996 and 2015. On average, 21,662 deaths due to forces of nature were recorded each year or 56 deaths were recorded a day in the period between 1996 and 2015.
Since 1993, the four-year average number of deaths due to forces of nature was the lowest in 2018-21
If the average number of deaths recorded in this category every four years during the 32-year period is considered, the number of deaths increased from 6079 in 1990-1993, to 11,514 in 1994-1997, and even further to 26,071 in 1998-2001. Following a drop in the 2002-2005 period to 18,257, the average number of deaths was above 23,000 in 2006-2009 and 2010-2013. Between 2014-2017, the average number of deaths dropped to 11,634 and further dropped to 7,391 in 2018-2021, the lowest average since 1993.
The reason for a higher average between 1998-2001 is the devastating Bhuj Earthquake in Gujarat in 2001. In 2001, ADSI reported a total of 36,651 deaths due to forces of nature, the highest in the last 32 years. Likewise, a higher average in the period, 2002 to 2005 can be attributed to the Tsunami in 2004 along the southeast coast of India. Deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic have not been included in this report though endemics are considered one of the natural causes of death in the ADSI report.
The list of natural calamities or ‘forces of nature’ considered in the NCRB report has become more extensive over the years. For instance, in the early 1990s, only lightning, heatstroke, floods, landslides, cold and exposure, and cyclones were listed. However, since 1995, deaths due to avalanches, earthquakes, epidemics, and torrential rains were included. Deaths in cyclone included deaths due to tornadoes as well for a few years. Since 2014, the report included deaths due to forest fires.
Between 1990 and 2021, Lightning claimed an average of 6 lives every day
In the last 32 years under consideration, more than 5.11 lakh accidental deaths due to forces of nature have been recorded. If one looks at the cause-wise deaths data (causes for which data is available), lightning has claimed the greatest number of lives, accounting for 13.7% of the total deaths due to forces of nature or 69,960 deaths in these 32 years. An average of 6 people lost their lives every day because of lightning.
The number of deaths due to floods, landslides, and exposure to cold together was 66,342 in the last 32 years, fewer than that claimed by lightning alone. Deaths due to heatstroke account for 5.6% of the deaths (28,376), floods account for 4.8% (24,576), exposure to cold accounted for 4.4% (22,719), and landslides accounted for 3.7% (19,047).
Deaths due to lightning on the rise
Over the years, the number of deaths due to lightning has increased while the deaths due to heat stroke increased substantially until 2019 and dropped in 2020 and 2021. In 2021, the lowest number of deaths due to heatwaves was recorded. Deaths due to cold and exposure rose until 2014 and have declined since then. The lowest number of deaths due to cold and exposure since 2004 was recorded in 2021. In the case of floods, the number of deaths crossed 900 each in 2019 and 2020 when severe floods were witnessed in Assam, Kerala, and other states. Every year, more than 100 deaths due to torrential rains was reported in the country since 1995 for which data is available. However, it has remained below 70 in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Huge discrepancy in the data by Home Ministry and Jal Shakti Ministry with respect to deaths in floods
The data provided in the Home Ministry’s ADSI reports are based on the information received from the States/UT Police. On the other hand, the Ministry of Jal Shakti also presents data on damages due to floods and heavy rains, including the number of human lives lost every calendar year.
According to the Ministry of Jal Shakti’s data, between 1990 and 2020, a total of 57,149 human lives have been lost in floods and heavy rains whereas the Home Ministry’s NCRB report stated that 23,920 lives were lost in floods during the same period. The Home Ministry’s data reported only about one-half of the deaths reported by the Jal Shakti Ministry’s data. The annual number of deaths due to floods and severe rains by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, and that due to floods, as reported by the Home Ministry has been plotted in the following chart.
Including the deaths due to cyclones, tornadoes, and torrential rains, which are also causes of floods, the Home Ministry’s data reported a total of 37,659 deaths in the 25-year period from 1995 to 2020 while the Jal Shakti Ministry’s data reported a total of 47,632 deaths in this period. In other words, despite including all types of rains/flood-related deaths, the data does not match from both these sources.
As was observed by Factly earlier in the case of heatwaves, different government sources provide different statistics on fatalities due to floods as well. While the discrepancy could be because of the different definitions of floods and deaths, differences in reporting, among other things, such huge difference in numbers does not allow for any kind of policy planning. Credible data is necessary for decision-makers, researchers, and other stakeholders to help identify trends in deaths and frequency of disasters to plan appropriate interventions and mitigation strategies to minimize damage.
Severe social and economic losses are associated with natural calamities
Due to climate change, it is expected that the frequency of extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall leading to floods, severe heat waves, and cyclones is set to increase in the coming years. Apart from the loss of lives, severe social and economic consequences are also associated with natural calamities. According to a report by The New Indian Express citing a special report to the United Nations General assembly, more than 3.8 million (38 lakh) people were internally displaced in 2020 due to weather-related disasters in India while China accounted for more than 5 million and the United States more than 1.7 million new displacements due to weather-related disasters.
Featured Image: Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report (ADSI)