Not just another environmental story: Predicting Africa's next, most expensive, natural disasters

Globally disasters have grown steadily since 1990. Algeria is predicted to lose $991 million due to earthquakes.

NATURAL disasters act as a huge handicap on the development of many African countries. They cause massive losses through deaths, injuries, damaged or destroyed housing, infrastructure and agriculture. 

And they don’t always have to be big to have the worst impact; a large amount of loss occurs, in particular, when they are small and recurring events that continuously damage critical public infrastructure, housing and production. 

According to the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR), a biennial review and analysis of natural hazards published by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, economic losses from internationally reported disasters have grown steadily since 1990, reaching an estimated annual average of $200 billion. 

But where will the continent’s next costly events occurs?

GAR came up with a global risk analysis that seeks to establish, based on scientific evidence, where the next hazard is likely to occur and the amount of loss it could rack up. 

In Africa the risk is widespread and diverse, but these are the eight countries that are predicted to suffer the highest losses in the future: 


Between 1990-2014, the International Disaster Database recorded the frequency (percentage) of a wide range of various hazards in Algeria. 

GAR’s risk assessment showed that this would be the African country most probable to have the highest average annual loss (AAL) from multiple hazards - estimated at $1.17 billion. The highest losses incurred would be from earthquakes ($991million), followed by flooding at $178million. 

In terms of risk Algiers, the capital, is considered the most vulnerable city in the country, but another city to watch out for is Constantine in the north, which is located in an active seismic region. 


Nigeria came in second behind Algeria in terms of average annual losses. 

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

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

The states with the highest risk, as identified by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, are; Niger, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Anambra, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kogi and Benue. Other areas at risk of coastal flooding due to rises in sea level and tidal surge include; Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Lagos. 


Internationally reported losses place earthquakes and flooding as the leading two hazards in terms of mortality in Egypt between 1990 - 2014. 

The risk, in terms of future losses per year, reflected this with earthquakes resulting in the highest losses at $176million, followed by $161million in floods. This is because Egypt is located near three major plate boundaries and is therefore affected by earthquakes along the major tectonic structures of the plate margin as well as by those originating within the country itself. 

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


In Morocco the multi-hazard AAL came in at $289million and, while economic issues were dominated by drought between 1990-2014, earthquakes came in as the most probable costly hazard ($157million) followed by floods with $132million.  

This is because Morocco is affected by seismic activity related to the coming together of  Africa and Eurasia. In fact, between 1993 - 2005 the country experienced more than 3,500 seismic events. 

The main events will take place in the North of the country, though studies have concluded that the regions where the highest ground motion is expected is the Al Hoceima region in north Morocco and Agadir region in the southwest of the country. 


Madagascar features highly in the top eight list of natural hazards because of its exposure to cyclones. Between 1990-2014 cyclones accounted for 94% of combined economic losses.

The probable risk of average losses for the country is at a total of $243million per year with “wind” accounting for $195million 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, yet at the start of 2015 the island has already seen two cyclones.


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

The risk results projected that flooding would account for $200million of the total average annual loss of $203million. This is in great part due to the country’s warm and humid equatorial climate which includes a wet season that lasts 9 months. Currently flood-risk areas cover 64% of the total area of the island. 


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

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

Flooding accounts for $135million of the total $138million predicted hazard costs. Nationwide, there is flood risk from March-November though the risk of flooding increases after long periods of drought, also a common occurrence, when the soil has limited absorption capacity. The South Omo and Wabe Shebele rivers are most prone to flooding. Dire Dawa is Ethiopia’s second largest city which has known a number of major floods in history. 

In Ethiopia’s case it should also be noted that the population here has high “volcano exposure”. The country has 59 volcanoes and the total population living within 30km from a volcano is over 11 million. 


Like Ethiopia, Tunisia has suffered huge losses due to flooding. Between 1990 - 2014 flooding accounted for 71.7% of natural hazard economic losses. 

However 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 $97million of the annual hazard total of $138million in the future, with flooding expected to cost about $40million each year. 

A place of great concern is the capital Tunis and its surrounding area, which has been the location of various seismic events. According to the historical seismicity of the site, large and destructive earthquakes are estimated to occur on an average every four centuries, the next being expected at the beginning of 21st century.

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