The cost of Hawaii wildfires’ averages over $4,000 per person.

Costliest climate disasters of 2023 reveal grave concerns for poor countries: Report

The top 20 list of the costliest extreme disasters of 2023 across a range of 14 countries showed that some countries—through size, geography, or other factors—are more prone to experience disasters

A new analysis of the top 20 costliest extreme climate disasters over 2023 has revealed a “global postcode lottery stacked against the poor” where the relative economic impact of disasters varies considerably across countries. The cost ranges from over $4,000 per person due to a wildfire in Hawaii to $9 per person due to flooding in Peru.

International development charity Christian Aid published the analysis in their report Counting the Cost 2023: A year of climate breakdown. The top 20 list of the costliest extreme disasters of 2023 across a range of 14 countries showed that some countries—through size, geography, or other factors—are more prone to experience disasters.  Floods, cyclones and drought killed and displaced millions of people across the globe in places which have done little to cause the climate crisis.
 
The report found the highest per capita cost of natural disasters was the wildfires which affected Hawaii in August. The cost of these wildfires’ averages over $4,000 per person. This is far beyond the second costliest per capita, Guam’s storms in May, which cost almost $1,500 per head of population.

Top 20 costliest disasters

No corner of the globe was spared in 2023 with all six populated continents represented in the list. Even large countries with big populations feature on the list: USA, China and Mexico all have populations more than 100 million yet experienced disasters, which cost tens of dollars per head of population, meaning billions of dollars at the national level.   

Rank Country Event Cost per person $ 
Hawaii/ USA Wildfire 4,161 
Guam Storm 1,455 
Vanuatu Storm 947 
New Zealand Storm 468 
New Zealand Flood 371 
Italy Flood 164 
Libya Flood 105 
Peru Flood 66 
Spain Drought 50 
10 Myanmar Storm 41 
11 Chile Flood 39 
12 Haiti Flood 36 
13 Mexico Storm 35 
14 Chile Wildfire 30 
15 USA Storm 25 
16 China Flood 23 
17 Peru Storm 20 
18 Malawi Storm 17 
19 USA Storm 16 
20 Peru Flood 

Pointing to the “global postcode lottery”, the study explained that disasters are worse for those countries which are unable to withstand them because of less resilient homes, where many people are employed in agriculture vulnerable to extreme weather, and places which lack government investment in prevention or rebuilding. 

Cyclone Freddy, which featured on the list, hit the population of Malawi in 2023. Mofolo Chikaonda, a widow aged 69 from southern Malawi, explained “the worst negative impact of Cyclone Freddy that I shall never forget in my entire life is the destruction of the only house that we struggled to construct.” 

Nushrat Chowdhury, Christian Aid’s climate justice policy advisor in Bangladesh, said, “Cyclone Freddy was a reminder that communities who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the worst. Loss and damage costs are in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually in developing countries alone. Wealthy nations must commit the new and additional money required to ensure the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP28 can quickly get help to those that need it most.” 

While some disasters make the headlines, like the wildfires in Hawaii, in many cases devastating climate-related disasters pass unnoticed by the wider world. In poorer countries, people are often less prepared for climate-related disasters and have fewer resources with which to bounce back.  The upshot is that more people die, and recovery is slower and more unequal.

More to come

With 2023 the hottest year on record, the effects of climate change are more obvious than ever before.  The study showed that the human cost of the climate crisis is seen increasingly in homes washed away and lives ended by floods and storms, and crops and livestock lost to drought.
 
Audrey Brouillet, researcher at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France, commented, “For many places in the world, climate change is making extreme weather such as floods or droughts more frequent and intense. Places that are dry are getting drier and places that are wet are getting wetter. This is already happening. In the future, we expect this intensification to worsen due to continuous fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gases emissions. Above +2°C warming, some regions such as Northern  Africa could experience more intense droughts by up to +50% of known values, whereas other regions like Central Africa will experience more severe heavy rains, by up to +70%.” 


Need of the hour: quick action and climate finance

The report recommended that governments urgently need to take further action at home and internationally, to cut emissions, and adapt to the effects of climate change.  Experts also said that where the impacts go beyond what people can adapt to, the loss and damage fund must be resourced to compensate the poorest countries for the effects of a crisis that isn’t of their making.

Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank, said,“The report shows the gaping hole at the recent COP28 climate summit in Dubai— the lack of finance for developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change.  At the moment poorer countries are being left to foot the bill for these costs themselves, despite them being caused by excessive fossil fuel burning in richer nations.  Until we address this huge adaptation gap, humanity’s response to the climate crisis will be failing.  It’s vital we right this wrong at next year’s COP meeting and ensure proper adaptation finance is provided to meet the needs of the vulnerable.”

The report warned that “more climate finance is desperately needed” including investment in early warning and early action.