2008: One of the Most Devastating Years in History

Natural disasters killed over 220,000 people in 2008, making it one of the most devastating years on record. Interestingly, the number of natural disasters was lower in 2008 than in 2007, but the catastrophes that occurred proved to be more destructive in terms of the number of victims and the financial cost of the damage caused.

Cyclone Nargis alone accounted for more than half of the human fatalities. The storm, which lashed Myanmar on May 2nd and 3rd, killed more than 135,000 people and left more than one million homeless.

Just days later, on May 12th, an earthquake rattled China's Sichuan province. Official figures say the tremor left 70,000 dead, 18,000 missing and almost five million homeless. The earthquake also caused 85 billion dollars in damages, making it the most expensive overall single catastrophe of 2008.

With 200 billion dollars' worth of damage, only 2005, when a large number of hurricanes slammed into the southern United States, and 1995, year of the Kobe earthquake in Japan, wreaked more destruction since records began in 1900.

Although Cyclone Nargis and the China earthquake are the most well-known natural phenomena of the year, other catastrophes help to make 2008 among the most disastrous in recent history.

  • Six tropical cyclones slammed into the southern United States, including Ike which, with losses of 10 billion dollars, was the insurance industry's costliest catastrophe of the year.
  • Around 1,000 people died in a severe cold snap in January in Afghanistan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan.
  • In Europe, an intense low-pressure system called Emma caused two billion dollars worth of damage in March.
  • A European storm dubbed Hilal in late May and early June left 1.1 billion dollars' worth.
  • Typhoon Fengshen killed 557 people in China and the Philippines in June.
  • 635 perished in August and September in floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • Earthquakes in Pakistan in October left 300 dead.