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Damage from major types of natural disasters
Damage from major types of natural disasters
FAO/Fisheries Department


Storm-related disasters have been increasing in frequency and intensity during the past decade. The high winds that accompany tropical storms and the resulting floods have a particularly devastating impact on food production. Although on average, hurricane intensity has remained essentially steady for the last three decades, there is some evidence to indicate that their frequency may be on the increase. Further, the devastation caused by tropical storm disasters has been rising enormously in the 1990s, owing in part to the increase of population in storm-prone areas.

The most recent World Disaster Report of the International Federation of the Red Cross shows that during the ten-year period 1990-1999 wind storms and flood related disasters combined accounted for 60 percent of the total economic loss caused by natural disasters (see chart). A significant share of disaster casualties, in human suffering in terms of lives lost and injured as well as people displaced from their homes and livelihood activities is also attributable to storms and floods. The major cause of the most destructive phenomenon is the storm surge - a rapid rise of the sea level resulting from strong winds driving the water ashore and causing flooding in low lying coastal areas. In low lying coastal areas (e.g. highly fertile and densely populated river deltas), storm surges account for more than 90% of loss of life and property.

Despite increased flood awareness and cyclone warning measures, the last 10 years have seen a 300 percent rise in the number of individuals affected by floods and storms. Between 1973 and 1997 hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, storms and tornadoes claimed, on average, each year an estimated 11 000 lives and made more than more 1.1 million people homeless. In Bangladesh alone three storms, four floods, one tsunami and two cyclones killed more than 400 000 people and affected another 42 million during this period.

The World Watch Institute estimated that during the first 11 months of 1998, weather-related disasters caused more than $89 billion in economic losses (as compared to $55 billion during the 1980s), resulted in 32 000 deaths and displaced 300 million people from their homes and livelihood systems. Most of the disasters in 1998, including record floods in China and Bangladesh and Hurricane Mitch in Central America, were attributed to the El Niño or La Niña phenomena. Although no aggregate quantitative estimates are available the economic cost of storm-related disasters in 1999 and 2000 was also considerable. For instance, the direct and indirect economic cost of the floods in Mozambique caused by Tropical Storms Elyne and Gloria in February and March 2000 is estimated at US$1 billion, as compared to the country's export earning of only US$300 million in 1999.

Tornadoes destroy anything in their path
Tornadoes destroy anything in their path
Courtesy of NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory

Impact of storms on fisheries

While some concern may be expressed at the damage caused by "ghost fishing" (where lost fishing gear continues to catch fish), marine life and their habitats are not seriously affected by storms. If boats, fishing gear and associated essential infrastructures have not been lost, fish production can resume immediately following passage of the storm.

The most serious impact of storms in the fishery sector is risk faced by fishers in terms of their lives and/or destruction of their capital such as boats and fishing gear. For example, in November 1996, following a severe cyclone, approximately 1,435 fisherfolk were reported dead or missing in the State of Andra Pradesh on the east coast of India. Of these, 569 were reported to have been lost at sea while fishing in mechanised boats, while 830 fisher folk were lost while carrying out shrimp seed collection and other shore-based activities in areas remote from their villages. The causes of death in these two activities are of a totally distinct nature, whereas the former were lost at sea in conditions of high winds and heavy seas, the latter died on land, largely as a result of the storm surge.

Storm-related damages to capital assets, including boats and fishing gear, means the loss of income and livelihood, especially for poor fishing households. Poor households who depend on fishing for their livelihood may not have adequate saving to replace their capital, and are likely to face the risk of food insecurity in the aftermath of storms unless their capital is replaced immediately through public support. The disruption of fishing activities by such households could also affect the livelihood and food security of other households, for instance, small traders who buy and sell fish in small local retail markets.

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