Over the centuries there have been many natural disasters or “acts of God” that have stolen human lives and left destruction and havoc for the survivors. Sometimes these incidents are ranked based on damage, loss of lives or the amount of money that it cost to rebuild. Therefore defining the 10 worst natural disasters of all times is subjective and depends on the criteria used. However, these ten natural disasters resulted in over one hundred million deaths over the years.
1. The Deadliest Earthquake in History
In July 5, 1201 in Egypt and Syria, the deadliest earthquake in recorded history struck making it one of the 10 worst natural disasters of all times. This disaster rocked the eastern Mediterranean and killed over 1.1 million people, destroying countless homes. Nearly every major city within the near east felt the effects of this quake.
2. The Black Plague
The bubonic plague or “Black Death” killed almost 33 percent of the entire population of Europe when it struck between 1347 and 1350. It also affected millions in Asia and North Africa. Scientists believe that the plague was a zoonotic disease caused by Yersinia pestis bacterium and spread due to poor hygiene and fleas carried by rats.
3. Indian Famine
In 1769 in India, a great famine took over ten million people’s lives. This was nearly one third of the population of India at the time. It was caused by a shortfall in crops followed by a severe drought. As populations were devastated by the deaths, many areas returned to jungle, further decreasing food supplies. This famine lasted until 1773.
4. The Potato Famine
The Irish Potato Famine of 1845 to 1848 took over a million lives. Irish farmers were dependent on their potato crops and most of the rural poor relied on these crops for nourishment. When a late blight water mold fungus struck, the crops were ruined and the British provided little aid. In addition to the lives that were lost, the Irish Potato Famine also caused as many as two million people to immigrate to other countries.
5. The Deadliest Drought
In 1876 to 1879, China recorded the deadliest drought in history making it one of the 10 worst natural disasters of all time. The rivers ran dry killing crops and livestock. Over 9 provinces were affected by the lack of food production and the drought ended up killing over nine million people.
6. The Flu Pandemic
In 1918 and 1919, the flu struck across the world resulting in between 35 million and 75 million deaths. Some reports even estimate that this viral illness killed nearly a 100 million people. In India alone, there were over 16 million deaths. The hardest hit by this were young children and the elderly.
7. The Yangtze, Yellow and Huai River Floods
After experiencing a severe drought from 1928 to 1931 in China, torrential rains suddenly appeared from July to August 1931. Because of this, the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Huai rivers flooded killing nearly 4 million people and affecting 51 million people by destroying the rice crops and creating famine and disease which ultimately killed even larger numbers of the population.
8. Chinese Famine
Over 20 million people died of famine from 1959 to 1961. This incident is debated as a natural disaster though and may in fact be a result of politics rather than decreased food production. This is because the Mao government reported inflated food production and then took 50 percent of the harvests. However, because the reported harvest was inflated, it resulted in the government taking the entire production leaving the people to starve.
9. African Drought
In 1981 to 1984 Africa suffered from severe drought in twenty nations. As rivers and lakes dried up, crops and livestock died resulting in up to 20,000 people starving to death each month. Other nations saw the need and came to Africa’s aid. However, by the end of the crisis, over a million people had succumbed to death.
10. North Korea Famine and Floods
A combination of political problems and natural disasters resulted in over 3 million deaths in North Korea from 1995 to 1998. With a period of industrial decline, North Korea was unable to keep up with food production and began rationing food consumption. Soon the distribution channels began to collapse though and a series of floods devastated nearly 40% of their farm land. This led to starvation throughout many of the rural areas.
Natural disasters often affect millions of lives through disease, devastation and starvation. Human behavior can also contribute to how severe the problem is and may add to the death toll. These 10 worst natural disasters of all time each stole over a million lives.