Scientists unanimously agree that the number of natural disasters that occur annually is skyrocketing, and will continue to do so into the future for a number of reasons. Oxfam’s chart below, published in a report based on EM-DAT, or the international disasters database, clearly shows that the number of geophysical events and climate related disasters have been on the rise over the past 30 years. There are nearly four times as many disasters annually now than there were in 1980.
Climate-related disasters are on the rise and will continue to rise as human-caused and natural phenomena alike pair together for more rainfall and intense storms in the short term. Ocean temperatures are rising – regardless of why, that creates new global patterns in precipitation and increases intensity of hurricanes and typhoons. Those superstorms lead to more flooding, more displacement, and more catastrophe altogether, in less predictable ways because the patterns are new. The commonly termed “El Niño” cycles have been shifting and intensifying from this oceanic warming, leading to greater flooding and storms in El Niño years, when oceanic temperatures in the Pacific are already warmer, and greater potential for drought in off years.
While storms and droughts alike are indeed more intense and severe, why more disasters are occurring has less to do with Mother Nature increasing her wrath and more to do with the global population increasing rapidly – and leading to vulnerable populations, or the poorest with the least resources – living in high risk areas. Those populations change the local landscape as well, which exacerbates the effects of the disaster itself. Cutting down mangrove forests along coasts, for example, has reduced nature’s capacity to mitigate its own storm effects for the land adjacent. Land change along the Mississippi and in New Orleans also exacerbated the effects of Katrina. What used to be a small disaster becomes a big one, and hence leads to additional count on the disaster roster.
The World Bank reports that 160 countries have more than a quarter of their population living in high risk areas. Between 2001 and 2010, more than $1.2 trillion was lost to the increased rates of natural disasters. This was a dramatic rise, which between 1981 and 1990 had been roughly $528 billion. So not only are more people at risk, but the economic effects are devastating at both local and global scales.
 Garrett, Samaria. 14 Jun. 2015. Are Natural Disasters Increasing? The Borgen Project. http://borgenproject.org/natural-disasters-increasing/.