Damage and losses from disasters in agriculture. Do we know enough?

Guest post by Piero Conforti – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Statistics Division

Disasters are increasing
Over the last decades, disasters triggered by natural hazards have become more frequent and more severe. An increasing number of climatological, hydrological and meteorological events have posed major threats to world’s population. The cost associated with natural disasters is also growing significantly. According to the 2015 Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, “economic losses have reached an average of USD 250 billion to USD 300 billion a year”.


There is a large impact in agriculture
Agriculture forestry and fisheries are severely affected by these natural disasters, as they involve a close interplay of human activities with the natural environment. This is especially the case of weather and climate related disasters, such as drought, floods and storms, among others. FAO has calculated that about 22 percent of the impact of disasters in developing countries directly affects farmers, fishers, pastoralists and forest- and treecrops-dependent people. This share raises to more than 80 percent when only drought is considered.


The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030 recognizes disaster risk reduction as an important component of sustainable development. Evidence shows that investing in disaster prevention and preparedness is four to seven times more cost-effective than to rely on emergency response.

Still, little information is available on in agriculture
In spite of such significant impact of disasters on crops, livestock forestry and fisheries, the monitoring of the associated damage and losses at national, regional and global levels is quite insufficient. Data is seldom systematically recorded or reported by governments or non-government agencies, nor collected in enough detail within existing global databases on disaster losses.

Good data is key to drive investment that can turn countries, and their economic activities, more resilient to disasters. It is known that the scale and magnitude of the impact is widely diverse depending upon the context in which the disaster hits. The same magnitude of a typhoon or a drought can create havoc in some countries, and virtually no impact in others that enjoy a high degree of resilience. Technical and institutional infrastructure can make a huge difference in minimizing the impact of infrequent and unexpected events.

Building more resilience requires more and higher-quality data. Gaining a full and coherent understanding of the magnitude and diversity of disaster impact on agriculture and its sub-sectors is key to drive investment towards improving resilience, and towards enhancing the ability to cope with an increasing number of unexpectedly hazardous events.

One of the strategic focuses of FAO is enhancing resilience, by providing decision-makers with sound data and information to target investments and actions in disaster risk reduction in agriculture.

How to get better data?
In this framework, the FAO has taken action to obtain specific, standardized and comparable data for monitoring damage and losses suffered by agriculture, and their consequences in terms of food security conditions. Focus is on the multiple threats that can impact the sector, recording immediate physical damage caused by disasters on agricultural assets, as well as on the cascading negative effects of disasters on agricultural production, and value chains.

  • Different types of hazardous events will be considered in the FAO initiative, including: natural hazard-induced disasters, such as geophysical and climate-related disasters – droughts, floods, fires, landslides, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, storms, extreme temperatures, hailstorms, and others. Among these, particular attention should be devoted to silent, neglected disasters, which intensely affect a limited number of people.
  • Food chain emergencies of transboundary or technological threats, such as transboundary plant, forest, animal, aquatic and zoonotic pests and diseases, food safety events, radiological and nuclear emergencies, dam failures, industrial pollution, oil spills.
  • Man-made disasters, such as conflicts and civil unrests.

The new dataset that FAO is building, by collecting data from member countries, will provide policy-makers, and stakeholders at large, with a sound information base for decisions making. It will allow implementing ex-ante cost-benefit analysis of prevention and post-disaster resource allocation. An expert consultation was held at FAO in June 2016 with key national and international stakeholders, to discuss how to develop a sound dataset.

A new methodology to obtain accurate information
The methodology starts from an international definition of damage and losses in the crops, livestock, fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry sub-sectors. For each of these sectors, two main components are considered: production, assets and community.


The production sub-component measures disaster impact on production inputs and outputs. Damages include, for instance, the value of stored inputs (e.g. seeds) and outputs (e.g. crops) that were fully or partially destroyed by the disaster. Production losses refer to declines in the value of agricultural production resulting from the disaster.

The assets sub-component measures disaster impact on facilities, machinery, tools, and key infrastructure related to agricultural production. Crop-related assets include, among others, irrigation systems, machinery, equipment; livestock-related assets include sheds, storage buildings; fisheries assets include ponds, hatcheries, freezers and storage buildings, engines and boats, fisheries equipment; forestry assets include, among others, standing timber, firebreaks and watch towers, forestry equipment and machinery, fire management equipment. The monetary value of (fully or partially) damaged assets is calculated using the replacement or repair/rehabilitation cost, and accounted under damage.

The assessment of each components takes into account the degree of resilience, as quantified by the parameters linked to Vulnerability and Lack of coping capacity the INFORM Index for Risk Management.

Testing the new methodology
Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, hit the central Philippines on 8 November 2013. Winds registered at over 300 km per hour. The storm surges of Haiyan reached up to over 5 meters of height, causing widespread devastation and loss of lives in the affected coastal provinces. As of November 11, the typhoon had caused at least 6,300 deaths, affected an estimated 16 million people, and damaged or destroyed more than 1.1 million houses, as reported by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The calculation of monetary impact of Typhoon Haiyan on the agriculture sector of the Philippines offers an opportunity to test the methodology described above. The assessment is conducted at provincial level, making use of primary data on disaster’s physical damage from previous impact assessments conducted by the Government of the Philippines. When primary data were missing, estimation procedures are implemented based on secondary information to fill data gaps. Error analysis is associated through the implementation of a ‘Max-Min’ interval procedure applied to the exogenous parameters included in the methodology, e.g. resilience parameters. The main steps followed in the analysis are summarized below.


Preliminary results show that the most affected agricultural sub-sectors are crops, followed by fisheries and livestock, and that losses may be relatively higher than damage.


For further information contact Piero Conforti – FAO, Statistics Division


Empowerment and Education Saves Lives: Tendenko in Kamaishi

The 11th March 2011 tsunami in Japan caused widespread devastation and human casualties. The losses as a result of the event will be felt through the generations. But there are always lessons we can learn from such a tragic occurrence. In a coastal community in the Iwate Prefecture, the majority of school-age children survived. The survival rate seems miraculous in the face of so much devastation. The survival of the children is attributed to a concept taught to them through an education scheme. The term is tendenko.


In Japan family bonds are very strong, which can become a problem during a disaster situation. During the 1896 Sanriku earthquake, family members tried to help each other but ended up failing to escape from the tsunami that destroyed the entire region. In the Taro District (then Tarocho) of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, only 36 of the town’s 1,859 residents survived the Meiji era (1868-1912) catastrophe. Family bonds were causing people to delay evacuation after an earthquake because they were gathering to check family members were ok before evacuating. In a earthquake-tsunami situation, this is incredibly dangerous as every minute to get to higher ground to escape a tsunami counts. Since 2005, the Kamaishi city government has invited disaster management education experts to offer advice to combat this phenomenon.

“Tendenko is the wisdom based on trust within families. It has a very deep meaning.” – Prof. Katada

An education program for schoolchildren led by Professor Toshitaka Katada from Gunma University Graduate School has been run since 2005 in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. Kamaishi schools conduct disaster drills to go uphill, teach tsunami velocity calculation methods in math class and discuss tsunami experiences during ethics lessons. The schools also encourage students to look for higher ground where they can evacuate on foot, and include evacuation routes in a disaster management map. Among the lessons’ important points was tendenko; a word coined from the city’s long history of repeatedly being hit by tsunami. The term means to “go uphill independently at the time of tsunami caring only for your own safety, not thinking of anyone else, even your family”. The term tendenko was one that had fallen from modern use. The idea is one of self-sufficiency and familial trust. Each member of the family must trust that the other members are evacuating to safety ahead of a tsunami. This stops people from trying to check on each other in geographically distant locations, and increases their chance and ability to escape the tsunami wave. The idea also fosters a sense of camaraderie and mutual aid for those evacuating in the same location.

“You might feel bad escaping tsunami alone. However, trying to confirm families’ safety and whereabouts is the most dangerous thing one can do in such a situation. It’s important that you mutually believe that ‘They must’ve evacuated somewhere,'” – Prof. Katada

The casualty toll for Kamaishi was more than 1,200 in total. Of the 2,900 primary and secondary school children in Kamaishi, only five children who were off sick from school or who had left early were confirmed dead as a result of the March 2011 tsunami. This is a phenomenal survival rate. Of the children’s parents, only 40 were killed, which suggests the message and lesson of tendenko had been passed from child to parent. School children were seen to be holding the hands of the younger students as they ran uphill to evacuate in advance of the tsunami. At one of the middle schools, the announcement system malfunctioned right after the earthquake and become unable to broadcast evacuation calls. However, students quickly left the building and gym as they had practiced and escaped uphill. Without the concept of tendenko, the schoolchildren would have been more at risk, stopping to gather outside school to be led by teachers, or returning home to wait for parent’s instructions. The loss could have been much greater in Kamaishi.

The case of Kamaishi during the March 2011 tsunami is one that teaches us the important role education can play in disaster risk reduction. Empowerment of people who are likely to be affected by disasters is key to survival. If they expect to be told what to do and where to go by official lines of communication during an event, it can lead to unnecessary casualties. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, communication lines are very likely to be broken or unavailable. People who are key to helping or directing evacuation will also have been exposed to the disaster and may be unable to respond or fulfil their official role. In this case, it is vital that people know to take action, and know what that action is; this cuts down on the time spent making decisions in a stressful situation. The more self-reliant they are, the more likely they will be able to respond appropriately to the challenges they may face. This does not mean we need to act selfishly – helping others nearby to get to safety is a common occurrence in disasters (more on this in another blog post). Kamaishi and tendenko can be taken as a positive example of the benefits of education and empowerment in disasters.

“I’ve repeatedly told children in class that we might experience tsunami larger than ever expected. It’s almost a miracle that this many children were saved. I’m proud of the children for making [lifesaving] decisions on their own.” – Prof. Katada