Africa’s most costly disaster zones

Floods, earthquakes, droughts and volcanos. These are the natural disasters in Africa that cause death and the destruction of infrastructure and agriculture, limiting the development of many countries.

And each event doesn’t have to be big to cause serious harm – small, recurring natural disasters that continually damage critical public infrastructure, housing and the means of production are just as detrimental.

The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, a biennial review and analysis of natural hazards published by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, seeks to establish, based on scientific evidence, where the next hazards are likely to occur and what the cost could be.

It reports that economic losses from internationally reported disasters have grown steadily since 1990, reaching an estimated annual average of $200-billion.

In Africa, the risks are widespread, but the following eight countries are likely to suffer the highest losses, according to the March 2015 review.


This country is most likely to suffer the highest average annual loss, estimated at $1.17-billion. It will be shaken by earthquakes ($991-million), followed by flooding ($178-million), according to the global report.

Algiers, the capital, is considered the most vulnerable city in the country, but another to watch is Constantine in the north, which is situated in an active seismic region.

The International Disaster Database recorded the frequency (percentage) of hazards in Algeria between 1990 and 2014.


Nigeria was next in terms of highest average annual losses.

The overwhelming risk lies with flooding, which is estimated to cost the country $543-million on average each year. This out of a total hazard risk cost of $564-million.

Nigeria often experiences heavy flooding but the size and frequency of these disasters, and the resulting effects on residents and infrastructure, are intensifying.

The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency identified the states with the highest risk as Niger, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Anambra, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kogi and Benué.

Areas at risk of coastal flooding because of rises in sea level and tidal surges include Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Lagos.


Earthquakes and flooding were the two leading causes of mortality from natural disasters in Egypt between 1990 and 2014, according to internationally reported losses.

The risk, in terms of future losses per year, reflected this. It is estimated the highest will be $176-million from earthquakes, followed by $161-million from flooding.

Egypt is located near three major plate boundaries and is mostly affected by earthquakes along the major tectonic margins, as well as from earthquakes originating within the country itself.

In terms of the places most at risk, studies have shown that the highest increases are concentrated in the Nile Delta, the northern Red Sea and Aswan.


In Morocco, the average annual losses were calculated at $289-million. Although, between 1990 and 2014, the major economic disasters were linked to drought, earthquakes were rated as the probably the most costly hazard ($157-million) followed by flooding ($132-million).

This is because Morocco is affected by seismic activity caused by the clash between the African and Eurasian plates. In fact, between 1993 and 2005, the country experienced more than 3?500 seismic events.

The major events will take place in the north of the country, although studies have concluded that the regions where the highest movement of ground is expected are the Al Hoceima region in north Morocco and the Agadir region in the southwest of the country.


Madagascar features high in the top eight list of countries hard hit by natural hazards because of its exposure to cyclones. Between 1990 and 2014, cyclones accounted for 94% of combined economic losses.

The probable risk of average losses is set at a total of $243-million a year, with wind accounting for $195-million of that.

The predictions are high because the warming of the Indian Ocean will cause more powerful tropical storms. On average, two cyclones hit Madagascar every three years but, at the start of 2015, the island saw two cyclones.


Between 1990 and 2014, storms and floods were frequent in Gabon and responsible for all reported economic losses.

The risk results projected that flooding would account for $200-million of the total average annual loss of $203-million.

In a great part, this is because of the country’s hot and humid equatorial climate, which includes a wet season that lasts for nine months. Flood-risk areas cover 64% of the total area of the country.


Drought accounted for 48.8% of deaths caused by a natural disaster between 1990 and 2014.

Although it accounted for most of the combined economic losses over the same period, at 17.3%, the predictions for the average annual losses put flooding as the biggest risk.

It accounts for $135-million of the predicted total $138-million hazard costs. Nationwide, there is a flood risk from March to November, though the risk of flooding is higher after long periods of drought, also a common occurrence.

The Omo and Wabe Shebelle rivers are most prone to flooding. Dire Dawa is Ethiopia’s second-largest city that has known major floods throughout its history.

Ethiopia’s population are also under threat from volcanic eruptions. The country has 59 volcanoes and more than 11-million people live within 30km of a volcano.


Like Ethiopia, Tunisia has suffered huge losses because of flooding. Between 1990 and 2014, it accounted for 71.7% of natural hazard economic losses.

But it is earthquakes that top the list as the natural hazard expected to cost the most each year. Earthquakes are predicted to cost the country $97-million of the annual hazard total of $138-million, with flooding expected to cost about $40-million each year.

Of great concern is the capital Tunis and its surrounding areas, where several seismic events have occurred recently.

Large and destructive earthquakes are estimated to occur on an average every four centuries, the next being expected at the beginning of this century.

This article was first published by M&G Africa. Visit

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