Indicator 6. Losses from natural disasters, by climate and non-climate-related events (in US$ and lives lost)

Rationale and definition:

Cities around the world, as well as rural populations, are at growing risk from natural hazards, including extreme climate-related events that are projected to increase in frequency and severity as a result of climate change. Population growth and urbanization will also affect vulnerability and exposure.

This indicator measures losses, both lives lost and economic costs, in urban and rural areas due to natural disasters,1 disaggregated by climate and non-climate-related events. Extreme climate-related natural disasters include the following: (i) hydro-meteorological events (storms, floods, wet mass movements) and (ii) climatological events (extreme temperature, drought, wildfire).2 Non-climate-related natural disasters consist primarily of geophysical events (earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, dry mass movements). Other disasters that may be climate or non-climate related include biological events (epidemics, insect infestations, animal stampedes). If in doubt, we propose that the events be categorized as “non-climate related.”

Effective adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures are needed to reduce the economic and social impact of natural disasters, including extreme climate events, on agriculture and rural areas. The economic dimensions of this indicator would track crop and animal production losses associated with climate and non-climate-related events, primarily through utilizing real-time remote sensing technology as the core of high-resolution agricultural monitoring systems. Such an indicator would also track the success of adaptation and other preparedness measures in areas that are most at risk, including, for example, the adoption of new stress tolerant varieties or other resilience-enhancing technologies that minimize the risk of crop losses.3

Other economic loss dimensions should be considered, including damage at the replacement value of totally or partially destroyed physical assets; losses in the flows of the economy that arise from the temporary absence of the damaged assets; resultant impact on post-disaster macroeconomic performance, with special reference to economic growth/GDP, the balance of payments and fiscal situation of the Government; as per the Damage and Loss Assessment Methodology developed by UN- ECLAC.4

Human losses would be measured by the number of persons deceased or missing as a direct result of the natural disaster, confirmed using official figures. The scale and duration of displacement would also be an important aspect of the human cost.


This indicator can be disaggregated spatially (including urban/rural) and by the age and sex of those killed. Further opportunities for disaggregation to be reviewed, including the socio- economic profile of those impacted.

Comments and limitations:

Some biological disasters (epidemics, insect infestations, animal stampedes) can be climate-related. The indicator would need to specify clearly which of these events are considered climate-related.

It should also be noted that there are some limitations around measuring the scale of disaster losses recorded. For example, the CRED’s International Disasters Database (EM-DAT) has a lower-end threshold for recording losses than other commonly used reinsurance databases such as Swiss Re’s Sigma or Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE. A precise threshold will need to be agreed upon.5

Preliminary assessment of current data availability by Friends of the Chair:


Primary data source:

Vital registration for the mortality (household surveys if not available), and administrative data (national accounts and statistics) to assess economic damage and loss.

Potential lead agency or agencies:

Such an indicator could be reported by UNISDR working with FAO, WHO, the Centre for Research and Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), and a consortium of reinsurance companies that track this data. The data is widely reported under the Hyogo Framework of Action.6 Data on forced displacement could be provided by UNHCR, IOM and OCHA.

  1. Consistent with the definitions used by CRED and the Munich database, we use the term ‘natural disasters’ to comprise biological, geophysical, meteorological, hydrological, climatological, and extra‐terrestrial disasters. There is growing evidence that some climate-related disasters are due to anthropogenic climate change and may therefore not be termed “natural”, but given the difficulty involved in establishing causality we propose to include them under natural disasters. See R. Below, A. Wirtz, and D. Guha-Sapir (2009). Disaster Category Classification and peril Terminology for Operational Purposes. Working Paper, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) and 
Munich Reinsurance Company (Munich RE), Brussels: UCL.

  2. As defined by the EM-DAT, the International Disasters Database, managed by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the University of Louvain.

  3. Mitchell, T., L. Jones, E. Lovell, and E. Comba (eds) (2013). Disaster Management in Post-2015 Development Goals: Potential Targets and Indicators. London, UK: Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

  4. See the DaLA Methodology at the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

  5. For a full discussion of this see C. Kousky (2012). Informing Climate Adaptation: A Review of the Economic Costs of Natural Disasters, Their determinants and Risk Reduction Options. Discussion Paper 12-28, Washington: Resources for the Future.

  6. UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) (2007). Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. Extract from the Final Report of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. Geneva, Switzerland: ISDR.