Haiti’s 2010 Earthquake the World’s Most Economically Devastating

The event cost 120% of the country’s GDP, which is more than 30% higher than the second-most impactful

Haiti's 2010 Earthquake the World's Most Economically Devastating
The Haitian National Palace (Presidential Palace), located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, heavily damaged after the earthquake of January 12, 2010. Note: this was originally a two-story structure; the second story completely collapsed. © Logan Abassi / UNDP Global

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake has been determined the world’s most economically devastating natural disaster, according to new research by Compare the Market.

The report, which includes natural disasters for the years 2000 to 2019 with a damage bill exceeding US$1 billion, analyzed the economic impact of each event on their country’s GDP.

Haiti’s earthquake was by far the most impactful – at the cost of US$8 billion in 2010, the damage bill represented 120% of their GDP at the time.

The World Bank notes that the actual repair costs reached as high as US$11.3 billion – significantly more than the US$8 billion of immediate damage caused by the earthquake.

The only events to come even close to that level of economic devastation were the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and Hurricane Maria (costing US$15 billion and US$90 billion respectively at the time of each event), which tore through Puerto Rico in 2017. While both events cost significantly more than Haiti’s disaster in dollar terms, the impact on their GDPs was notably less (89% and 87% of GDP respectively).

Combined, disasters across the world displaced 38.5 million people between 2000 and 2019. About 4.2 billion people were directly impacted – some more than once.

Across the period studied, Compare the Market found that 2005 was the costliest year globally at US$214 billion. The contributing events include Hurricane Katrina, Wilma, and Rita, which all took place across the US. Throughout the entire period studied, the total global economic losses were recorded at US$2.97 trillion, accounted for across 7,348 recorded events.

The United States recorded 467 disasters between 2000 and 2019. Despite many of these being listed as billion-dollar events, many of them represent less than 1% of the country’s GDP. It’s a stark difference to a country such as Haiti, where a single event absolutely devastated the economy.

Asia also recorded a significant number of disasters. Across the same period, the continent has a list of 3,068 individual events. These are spread between China (577), India (321), the Philippines (304), and Indonesia (278), just to name a few.

To see a full list of the most significant natural disasters throughout the past two decades, click here.