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Data: NCRB & Jal Shakti Ministry provide different numbers on Flood related fatalities

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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 recent incidents of ‘Forest Fires’ ravaging several parts of Uttarakhand and claiming 5 lives have sparked a debate on the increasing number of natural disasters and fatalities, affecting both the environment and humans.  Against this backdrop, we look at the number of fatalities caused by various types of natural calamities or forces of nature.

Methodology and Notes

  • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) publishes yearly data on the number of deaths caused by natural calamities through the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) reports. The same data is used for analysis in the story
  • The NCRB only collates and publishes the information provided to it by States/UTs on the deaths due to forces of nature. Hence, it does not claim any responsibility for the authenticity of the information.

The NCRB classifies accident data 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 2022 report, over 4.3 lakh accidental deaths were reported, of which 8060 (1.8%) deaths were due to forces of nature. 

On average, 43 people lost their lives per day due to forces of nature between 1990 and 2022

Between 1990 and 2022, more than 5.19 lakh deaths were recorded due to the forces of nature. On average, 43 persons lost their lives per day to the forces of nature. About 72% of the victims were males and 28% were females. Data on transgenders was included from 2014 only, and account for a minuscule share of victims. 

There has been 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 between 1996 and 2015, over 4.33 lakh deaths were recorded, out of the total 5.19 lakh deaths reported in 33 years. That is, nearly 82% of the deaths due to forces of nature between 1990 and 2022, took place between 1996 and 2015. On average, about 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 every four years during the 33-year period is considered, the number of deaths increased from 6079 in 1990-1993 to 11,514 in 1994-1997, and further up 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. Even if we take the latest four years data into consideration, the number of deaths were 8,145 in 2019, 7,405 in 2020, 7,126 in 2021, and 8,060 in 2022, with the average number of deaths being close to what was observed during 2018-2021.   

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 33 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. This has been mentioned explicitly in the ADSI reports for 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Exact cause of Death remains unknown in bulk of the cases

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 cyclones included deaths due to tornadoes as well for a few years. Since 2014, the report included deaths due to forest fires and due to Tsunami. 

While there have been improvements in categorizing the causes of deaths resulting from natural disasters, the precise reasons behind many fatalities remain elusive. For instance, a significant portion of deaths was due to unknown causes labelled as ‘Others’ in the data. These deaths have totalled more than 70% of deaths reported in this category in the years 2011 to 2014. The ‘Others’ category consistently accounted for 70% or more of all the deaths, representing the highest proportion among recorded causes.

Although this percentage decreased to an average of 25-27% from 2015 to 2022, it still ranked as the second leading cause of death after lightning strikes. In other words, the exact causes of death remain unknown in most cases.

Sudden Dip in the Number of Deaths from 2015; Reasons remain unknown

The data shows that from 2005 to 2014, the annual death toll due to forces of nature consistently exceeded the 20,000 mark peaking at 25,153 in 2007. However, a sudden decline was observed from 2015 onwards, with figures reducing to 10,510 in 2015 and further to 8,684 in 2016. Subsequently, from 2017 to 2022, deaths hovered around 7,000 to 8,000 per year. The precise reason for this drastic drop from over 20,000 to below 10,000 deaths annually remains unexplained by the NCRB.

Moreover, this decline cannot be attributed to a decrease across causes except for the ‘Others’ category. In 2014, ‘Other’ causes accounted for 14,023 out of 20,200 total deaths. However, in 2015, this number dropped to 3,114 while total deaths halved to 10,510. Thus, from 2014 to 2015, deaths from unknown causes decreased from 14,023 to 3,114. During the same period,  the number of deaths due to Avalanche, Earthquake, Epidemic, Exposure to Cold, Flood, Forest Fire, Heat or Sun Stroke, Lightening and Torrential Rain have increased from 23 to 38, 2 to 92, 48 to 218, 913 to 1149, 541 to 846, 1248 to 1948, 2582 to 2641, and 156 to 195, respectively, the number deaths due to Cyclone, Landslide, Starvation or Thirst due to Natural Calamity, and Tornado have decreased from 62 to 15, 499 to 232, 50 to 30, and 42 to 13, respectively.

Thus, unlike the ‘Others’ category of these deaths, other causes do not show a significant decrease or increase. A similar trend is noted in the subsequent years from 2016 to 2022 where the total number of deaths was around 7,000 to 8,000, much lower compared to the 2014 figure. The bulk of this decrease is due to the decrease in the number of deaths in the unknown ‘Others’ cause, not due to known causes.

Between 1990 and 2022, Lightning claimed an average of 6 lives every day

If one looks at the cause-wise deaths data excluding the ‘Others’ category, lightning has claimed the greatest number of lives, accounting for about 14% of the total deaths due to forces of nature or 72,147 deaths in these 33 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 67,878 in the last 33 years, fewer than that claimed by lightning alone. Deaths due to heatstroke account for 5.6% of the deaths (29,106), floods account for 4.8% (25,123), exposure to cold accounted for 4.5% (23,439), and landslides account for 3.7% (19,316). 

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. More than 100 deaths due to torrential rains were reported in the country since 1995 for which data is available. However, it has remained below 90 from 2019 to 2022. 

Large discrepancies in the data by NCRB and by Jal Shakti Ministry and CWC with respect to deaths in floods

The data provided in the Home Ministry’s NCRB 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 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. 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 NCRB’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. 

Further, the NCRB’s figures are also lower than the figures published by Central Water Commission (CWC). During the period from 2016 to 2020, the number of deaths due to cyclones, tornadoes, torrential rains, and floods as per NCRB data are 4,676, while the same deaths as per the CWC data are 9,882. Therefore, even when compared to CWC figures, the NCRB figures fall short by more than half.

As observed Factly’s coverage of Heatwaves (read here and here), different government sources provide different statistics on fatalities due to rains and floods as well. While the discrepancy could be because of the different definitions of floods and deaths, differences in reporting, etc. among other things, such large discrepancies in numbers do not allow for any kind of policy planning.

Credible data is a prerequisite 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 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)

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About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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