As our global ecosystem changes, the risk of natural disasters increases. Some countries are especially vulnerable to these strikes, such as low-lying island countries or countries with poor infrastructure and low income levels. The countries on this list have been selected from the United Nations University for Environment and Human Security’s 2015 World Risk Report. The report ranks countries by their imminent vulnerability to an impending disaster. It includes earthquakes, floods, droughts, and sea level rise, among other factors, to determine a country’s risk. Beyond the natural likelihood of a disaster, the report also factors in a country’s ability and preparedness to deal with its aftermath.
There are a few global risk hotspots throughout the world and most of the countries on this list fall into those zones. Areas such as the Southern Sahel, Central America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania make up these disaster prone regions, mostly located near the equator. Beyond geography, poverty has been classified as the largest contributor to natural disaster risk. This is due to poorer countries’ inability to develop infrastructure capable of handling the risks and their lack of capital to cope with the disasters. See if you live in one of the danger zones in our list of 25 Countries Most Likely To Experience The Devastation Of Natural Disasters.
The first country with a serious natural disaster risk on our list is the Dominican Republic. A Caribbean country, the DR is highly susceptible to hurricanes which can batter the country from June to November and beyond. The torrential rains often cause flooding and landslides, especially in the more mountainous western parts of the country. Located on the border of the North American and Caribbean plate, the Dominican Republic also sees its fair share of earthquakes, notably a rather strong one in 2003 which received the third strongest (out of 12) classifications on the Mercalli scale.
The West African country of Benin may not immediately seem like a natural disaster hotspot until you dig into the countless devastating floods it has seen over the past century. Floods in 2008 were some of the worst to ever hit the country, displacing over 150,000 people. Even weeks after the initial July floods, Benin’s biggest city, Cotonou, was not fully drained. While the country was still recovering, floods hit again in September, causing what one mayor called, “the largest humanitarian crisis in the region to date.”
The 2008 flooding in Benin may have seemed bad, but it pales in comparison when, in June 2009, flooding in West Africa affected nearly a million people. Flooding and drought are the major risks in neighboring Niger, caused largely by rising temperatures and erratic rainfall. The bipolar combination of these two is disrupting food production and making it difficult for farmers to survive, causing massive famine and food crises throughout the country.
Located in the northeast part of South America, Guyana is a relatively mountainous country. Its position near the equator means it sees a high amount of rainfall, much of which triggers landslides and leads to intense flooding. During the dry season, the country can experience severe droughts – seemingly contradictory to the wet times of only months before. Furthermore, Guyana has some of the most unspoilt rainforests in South America. While they harbor extensive biodiversity, they are also susceptible to fire.
If it seems like Haiti is being constantly battered by natural disasters, you’re right. Haiti has the perfect formula when it comes to disaster vulnerability. The combination of extreme poverty, deforestation (a result of poverty), resulting landslides, poor or non-existent building standards and codes (also a result of poverty), and its positioning along a plate fault line puts the country at risk for hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, and landslides. When Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti in 2012, the country lost 10% of its GDP nearly overnight.
Jamaica is one of the most diversified countries when it comes to disaster risk – and that’s not a good thing. The amount of deaths vary across a range of natural hazards from hurricanes to drought to fire to storms and flooding, in that order. The island nation is also especially susceptible to earthquakes. Widespread poverty means the impact of disasters is even greater than in other countries.
Like other West African countries, Gambia is extremely vulnerable to flooding. Stretching down the middle of Senegal, the country is especially at risk of climate change, notably windstorms and rising ocean levels. What may be more concerning is the impact these natural disasters can have. In a country where half the population is vulnerable to food insecurity and where local food production can only meet over half of local needs, any disruption to agricultural production seriously cripples the country.
A major recipient of monsoon rains, Vietnam is prone to flooding, especially in major cities such as Hanoi which has seen some of its neighborhoods sinking up to 1.6 inches (4 cm) per year. Heavy rains also cause landslides in highland regions while typhoons leave paths of destruction in their wake, mostly in the north. Increased global warming will especially affect Vietnam due to its long coastline and low-lying deltas.
It should come as no surprise that Japan is one of the most seismically active countries on Earth. While Japan experiences some of the worst natural disasters in the world, its high level of income and GDP help it better cope with their effects. Since over two-thirds of Japan’s land is mountainous, the country is at risk of mudslides caused by frequent earthquakes and heavy rain from storms and typhoons. Volcanoes also pose a threat, such as the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake which killed 56 people.
Though Fiji has plenty of volcanoes, no eruption has been noted in modern-day history and the last eruption is believed to have occurred well over 2,000 years ago. Intense cyclones often batter the chain of islands, posing the largest threat. The country’s two major industries – sugar and tourism – are heavily affected by these storms which often cause landslides in the hilly country.
Guinea-Bissau, located in West Africa, has been experiencing higher rainfall in recent years which has contributed to greater flooding. High temperatures frequently result in bush fires, and rising sea levels are leading to weakened coastal aquifers and salinization, damaging rice and other crops.
Straddling the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Nicaragua is vulnerable to hurricanes coming at it from both sides. Combine 2007 Hurricane Felix with 50 unrelated days of pounding rains plus a heavily deforested country unable to prevent landslides and erosion and you have what was the perfect scenario for a catastrophic disaster in late 2007. To make it worse, Nicaragua is lined with a string of volcanoes down its spine.
It has been thought that Mauritius is one of the better prepared countries for tropical cyclones. Alas, it still finds its place at #13 on our list of countries most at risk for a natural disaster. The cyclones aren’t the real problem; it’s the torrential rains seemingly coming out of nowhere. The Indian Ocean country has seen the effects of climate change first-hand, including unusual periods of drought and rain, which combined with rapid construction, have diminished green spaces and water’s ability to naturally flow into the ocean.
Have you ever heard of Brunei Darussalam? Having the coolest name on this list – officially the Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace – this small Southeast Asian country is one of the richest on Earth. Despite its wealth and despite being mostly free from earthquakes and typhoons, Brunei has a serious problem with wildfires and intense rains which can cause intense flash floods, notably in 2008 and 2009.
Surprise, surprise – the Pacific country of Timor-Leste is also susceptible to massive flooding, landslides, and earthquakes, but these threats don’t pose the biggest risk to the country during an emergency – the lack of coping mechanisms do. By not being ready to deal with the frequent, localized natural hazards, the country is overall at a great risk of climate change, especially for the 70% of its population which lives in rural areas.
Located on the Pacific Rim of Fire, El Salvador is one of the most at-risk countries for a host of natural disasters. Its location means it is frequently the target of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, even taking the top spot in the UN’s 2010 Disaster Assessment and Coordination report which classified 95% of the population as at risk from natural disasters. Thankfully, various charities have been training locals to act as their own first responders in case roads are blocked and bridges are destroyed.
Papua New Guinea
Earthquakes and the tsunamis they trigger pose one of the biggest threats to the Pacific country of Papua New Guinea. Widespread deforestation and rainforest degradation combined with logging have cut into the country’s ability to prevent mudslides and flooding. The country is also home to multiple active volcanoes, some erupting as recently as 2010 & 2014.
Due to its proximity to the equator, Cambodia sees massive amounts of water each year, caused by both monsoons and typhoons. During heavy flooding in 2000, many villagers whose crops were washed away started catching cobras, a lucrative business if sold to local medicine makers. If the incessant rains and rivers bursting their banks weren’t enough, in 2005 a flaming meteorite landed in northwestern Cambodia, starting a fire in rice fields.
Costa Rica experiences an earthquake every day, though most of these are too small to be felt. In 2009, the deadliest earthquake in the country’s history killed 34 people and displaced thousands, even destroying much of the local infrastructure for years to come. Costa Rica is also volcanically active, with 130 peaks strung along the country, many making for decadent hot spring spas.
One of Bangladesh’s biggest risks is its widespread poverty and income inequality; these two factors pose significant risk to its preparedness for a natural disaster. Home to the most rivers of any country, Bangladesh is notably low-lying, making it prone to floods and rising sea levels. Erosion and drought are related phenomenon which frequently damage local areas and eat away at national GDP. In the roughly 100 years since 1907, over 400 million people have been affected by both droughts and flooding and over 614,000 have been killed by cyclones.
Like other Pacific islands, the Solomon Islands are experiencing a slow decline. Rising sea levels in the low-lying islands are causing saltwater intrusion, damaging crops and tainting fresh water supplies. Five of its islands have already disappeared. If losing your land mass wasn’t enough, tidal surges have made it increasingly difficult to swim in the Solomon Islands’ beaches, and earthquakes frequently destroy local houses and cause landslides.
Though Guatemala has a national disaster agency, it is not much use against the constant battering of natural disasters. Notably, a 1976 earthquake killed 23,000 people and racked up damages worth 18% of GDP. More recently, a 2015 mudslide killed over 200 people in one of the worst years for flooding in Central America. One of the biggest dangers is that funds for social programs meant to alleviate poverty are often diverted to disaster relief, further prolonging the end of poverty in Guatemala.
The Philippines act as a protective buffer for Southeast Asia, guarding it against most strong storms which head towards the region. This buffer was attacked in 2013 when Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan struck the nation of islands. The worst natural disaster in the country’s history, the storm killed over 6,000 people, affected over 16 million, and caused damage of over 2 billion U.S. dollars. Earlier that same year, an earthquake hit the island of Visayas, unleashing the power of up to 32 nuclear bombs in just 34 seconds.
Offshore earthquakes can often prove more dangerous than land-based ones, a fact Tonga harshly learned when an earthquake near Samoa triggered a tsunami which made landfall as far away as Tonga. Both natural disasters have proved equally destructive in terms of human life in Tonga, followed afterwards by cyclones, especially prominent as of late due to the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Want to know more about natural disasters? Take a look at 25 Worst Natural Disasters Ever Recorded.
An island chain in the South Pacific, Vanuatu takes top spot on our list of countries most at risk for a natural disaster. The strongest tropical cyclone ever to form in the Southern Hemisphere, Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, destroyed Vanuatu’s infrastructure and nearly every building on the main island. Beyond its susceptibility to intense tropical storms, Vanuatu is also at risk due to its isolation and local seismic activity and the spread of disease during disasters due to poor sanitation and waste disposal.