On the 25th of April 2015, an immense earthquake measuring between 7.8 and 8.1 on the Moment Magnitude Scale (the successor of the Richter-Scale) hit the south-east Asian country of Nepal – the traditional departure point for most climbers attempting to ascend the ever imposing Mount Everest. As of the 1st of May the official death toll has been measured at over 6000, with some officials predicting that as many as 15,000 may actually have perished. An instantaneous, devastating and seemingly senseless loss of life, but far from the pinnacle of Mother Nature’s wrath.
Nature has historically proven particularly unforgiving towards the Asian continent, especially the Chinese, with the top three worst natural disasters ever recorded all having struck mainland China. The single worst of these being the 1931 floods of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers that left almost four million dead from drowning, disease and starvation. Recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2011 Tsunami that pummeled the coast of Japan, and now the Nepalese massacre serve as constant reminders that planet earth is prone to turning against humanity on a whim. In sunny South Africa we may have our fair share of socio-economic problems, but thankfully we have largely been spared the environmental onslaught – at least for the most part.
Note that for the purposes of this article, the term natural disasters will henceforth be limited to floods & storms, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes.
Using data detailing the previous 21 years of natural disasters in South Africa, compiled with the help of the useful International Disaster Database and various South African news sources, one can start to construct a comprehensive rap sheet of Nature’s indiscriminate attempts at culling our population here at the southern tip of Africa. Since the end of apartheid there have been 801 documented deaths in South Africa as a result of natural disasters. To put this figure in perspective: if the (conservative) death toll estimate of 6000 following the aftermath of the Nepalese tragedy were to be matched by South Africa then it would take almost 300 years to equal the tragic loss of life that happened in those devastating 20 seconds.
In South Africa, by far the most deadly of the four environmental adversaries are floods & storms, claiming almost 80% (660) of all lives lost to nature. The least dangerous of foes are earthquakes, which have only managed to rob two unfortunate underground miners of their lives in a 5.3 MMS attack near Stilfontein in the North West. Tornadoes (42 deaths) seem to wage an almost exclusive vendetta against the Eastern Cape while Wildfires round up the fearsome foursome, killing 117 people since 1994.
The single worst natural disaster since apartheid was the 1995 rainy season that claimed 207 victims, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal – the province that has historically been Nature’s likeliest target. The ancestral kingdom of Shaka is the most common crime scene for Nature’s vengeance, accounting for almost 50% of fatalities, the 2nd worst afflicted being Limpopo. The province that is by far the safest to stay in if one wishes to regularly brave the outdoors is the Free State, having only lost 3 locals to the elements in the past 21 years – 2 to a Tornado in 2012 and 1 child to a storm in 2011 – equal in amount to Currie Cups won by the province in the same time period.
According to a factoid that adorned the walls of the Cape Town Aquarium as recently as 2010, 54 people per year die from toasters in South Africa. This statistic was used by the Aquarium to contrast the relatively low amount of human fatalities caused by sharks per year (only 4 per year), but if true, then it would also mean that on average, more people per year die from toasters in South Africa than of natural disasters (only 38 per year).
Food for thought.