The Analysis Of 3 Disasters In North America, Brazil And East Africa

Low levels of development within a country leads to an increase in vulnerable people ultimately leading to greater impacts of disasters. This can then have an effect on economic growth due to loss of means of growing an economy in large disasters which can create a cycle which leads to massive impacts on people. Through analysing three different drought disasters in countries with varying economic prosperity we can see the effects of the outcomes after the events. Although it is difficult to compare disasters across different countries due to the varying situations, the events can be analysed to see how the outcomes vary. The disasters used to demonstrate this are the North american drought (2012-2013, Brazil drought (2014-2017) and the East African drought (2011-2012). Some basic measurements can be used to assess the impact of a drought, deaths, loss of crop or livestock, environmental, water, long term impacts and economic impacts. By comparing countries of different economic prosperity the scale of impacts can show how less prosperous counties see greater impacts from disasters.

The disasters analyse all occurred in similar time periods, the earliest disaster started in 2011 and the last one ended in 2017. By eliminating variables between the disasters it is easier to compare the effects. The effects of disasters over varying time periods involve different technology and management and can provide different results. Comparing a recent disaster in a non-developed country to a disaster from 50-100 years in a developed country gives unclear results as severity due to lack of technology or poor management due to lack of understanding of events may be misunderstood as increased severity due to limitations of economy. With similar time periods selected the impacts of droughts on different counties is narrowed to the economic capabilities of countries.

Although the disasters that are analysed cover an area when necessary to use a country the following are used. For the North American drought, America is used as this is the largest area affected. For the East Africa drought Somalia is used as was the country that required the most foreign aid and had one of the largest refugee populations.

Gdp per capita is a good indicator of wealth within a country. Although Brazil has a high gdp at $1927million (IMF,2018) they also have a high population with 211million people (worldometers, 2019). This means that GDP per capita is $9132. America has the world's largest economy with a GDP of $21482billion (IMF,2018) and with a population of 329million (worldometers,2019) giving a GDP per capita of $65062 which is the 8th highest. Somalia has a GDP of $7903million (IMF, 2018) with a population of 15.4 million giving a gdp per capita of $513. From looking at the GDP per capita we can see that the USA is the highest ranked with Brazil in the middle and Somalia ranked at the bottom. This ranking will be used to show how droughts affect the countries.

North American Drought

Following a very hot summer period caused by a La nina event the conditions for a large drought were formed. According to Richard Seagers research the La nina conditions cause storms to move to the north of the United states leaving the southern states with little rainfall. As these areas are typically low rainfall arid areas drought conditions occur and many effects are felt such as loss in crop yields and livestock death. The NOAA ranks drought as one of the worst on record and as much of the us farming region is in this same area large impacts to farmers and crops was felt. La nina wasn't the only occurrence credited to the cause of the drought global warming has meant that average temperatures and reduced rainfall have been common occurrences in summer leading to perfect drought conditions. This can then mean when events occur such as a strong la nina that a large drought occurs.


The NCEI estimates the costs of the drought at $30billion mostly in agricultural losses (Adam Smith, 2017). Estimates for corn yields for 2012 where 166 bushels per acre and 14.79 billion bushels but actual numbers where a lot lower at 123.1 bushels per acre and 10.76billion bushels. This demonstrates a fall of 26 and 27% on predictions in 2012 (Bradley Rippley, 2015) Livestock was also affected with farmers losing cattle due to lack of water and feed. To combat this farmers moved some livestock to northern parts of the country but that has significant cost. The results of this were a reduction in inventory by 13-15% in southern states like New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas but inventory rose in Northern states by 5-8%. The number of dead animals was also significant with 1.3million in Oklahoma and 2.2million in Texas (in a 4 year period ending in 2014) (Bradley Rippley, 2015). This food shortage lead to some shortage in the global food market meaning some countries saw high prices as a result. Countries with poor food security can end up with greater effects then the country where the drought is occurring.

East African Drought

The BBC reports that the East African drought “was the worst in 60 years” (BBC, 2011) this drought left millions of people displaced and saw thousands of deaths. This drought also lead to a food crisis expanding the problem. This event was caused by low levels of rainfall combined with an unusually strong La Nina event, leading to a decrease in rainfall of around 30% of the average (OCHA, 2011). As east africa is a low rainfall region already falls of this scale cause large scale crop failure leading to drastic consequences for people within the region. Nearly 80% of Somalia's population are involved in pastrtolisation ( ) leading to a crisis when droughts occur. Wages are also very low for people in the region with 43% living on less than $1usd per day (). This combination of situations lead to a large scale drought involving 12million displaced people.

The effects of the drought in the East african region where widespread due the reliance on farming. With crop failures between 40 and 60% (FSNAU, 2011) the toll on people in the area was significant with an estimated death toll of 260000 (The Associated Press, 2013) and number of people in need of help estimated at 12.39million (OCHA, 2011). This immense death toll is due to large scale famine across the region causing vulnerable people become malnourished or prone to disease leading to deaths. The death toll was also largely skewed towards younger people with half of the total death toll being people under the age of 6. This quantifies the vulnerability of young people who are unable to fend for themselves and prone to disease. The famine was widespread with 20% of the population with extremely limited access to basic food requirements and global acute malnutrition exceeding 30% (FSNAU, 2011). Lots of people flee their homes to try and seek aid or food with some moving to try to find employment to support their families. As aid groups try to access the area and provide resources to those in need people move to areas with access already stable supply of resources. Relief efforts where also somewhat hindered by hard to access areas as well as having to negotiate with al-shabaab terrorists for access to some ports and airstrips.


Between 2014 and 2017 brazil experienced a severe drought affecting the south east of the country. The drought was said the be the worst since 1930 by the Brazilian environment minister Izabella Tiexeira. This has caused some reservoirs to fall to 5.2% of their capacity putting the 8 million people who the reservoir serves in jeopardy. Rainfall was also low with the region of Cantareira getting only 33.5% of its predicted rainfall. (Globo' s G1 news site) The cause of this situation is consecutive years of low rainfall and poor management of infrastructure leading to loss of water through leaking pipes or other mismanagement. Large scale deforestation may also play a part as run offs are affected.

The majority of water use in Brazil is for irrigation with 72% of total water supply being used for the practise. Effects of this vary depending on the different regions of Brazil as different crops are grown there. In Sao Paulo ⅓ of crops were lost due to water shortage. (Rachel Glickhouse, 2015, para. 3) Loss of crops leads to economic losses with the cost of losses in the state Espirto Santo totaling an estimated $500 million. A lack of water also saw water restriction implemented with water pressure being reduced by 75% during the night time. This had the aim of reducing water use but had the effect of impacting poor people who mostly lived in higher areas meaning their water supply was completely cut off. This is an example of disasters affecting vulnerable people more due to unfavourable conditions.

Most of Brazil's power comes from hydroelectricity with 70% of the total power coming from hydro ( Reduction in rainfall leads to reduction in dam levels making it harder to produce power through hydro. During the droughts there were a number or power issues due to the decreased ability to produce power. During this time power had to be switched to fossil fuel alternatives such as coal and oil to keep up with demand. The results of this were a cost of 15.2billion reais ($3.8billion usd) due to switching to more expensive energy production (Jonathan Watts, 2014, Para. 10). By switching back to fossil fuel based energy from the relatively clean hydro production brazil's carbon dioxide production increased.


When talking about impacts of drought on developed countries economic loss and economic value where calculated compared to less developed countries where deaths, foreighn aid required and displaced people. The common theme among all disasters is that the effects on crop yields was discussed. Crop yields often vary in times of drought as lack of rainfall leads to crops failing or producing lower yields than expected. This then has flow on effects to the economy and people as farmers lose income and people struggle to find food or make ends meet. These effects are amplified for people who are in vulnerable positions as those who were already struggling to make ends meet fall further into trouble and now face issues like major health problems malnutrition and deaths. When drought effects less vulnerable people they can easily cope with the changes to situations for example changing crops to plant or eating the costs of a low yield season due to savings. When subsistence farmers are impacted by drought they lose both their food and their means of income causing them to either leave their land to find jobs in cities or to starve. This can be seen in the nearly 12million refugees who fled to neighbouring countries in order to find food to survive.

This table shows the extent of the crisis that East Africa faced over the drought period with a population equivalent to half of Australia's now refugees. Refugees are also vulnerable people as people try to take advantage of them and they have little way of escaping dangerous situations. The climate change vulnerability index is a good proxy in looking at vulnerabilities during drought as climate change is leading to increase in temperatures as well as weather variability will lead to a large scale increase in droughts. In this ranking Somalia is ranked as the most vulnerable country in the world. This is confirmed by the drought as it lead to extreme consequences especially compared to Brazil and the North American drought. As with all countries the most vulnerable people within a country are the worst affected. The deaths in East Africa where mostly the most vulnerable people shown by the 50% total deaths being children under the age of six. Comparing this to the most vulnerable people within America when the drought hit where struggling farmers were forced into taking risky loans or shutting down farms after defaulting on loans. This is a stark contrast as the most vulnerable people in both situations see radically different outcomes. When already vulnerable countries are affected by disasters the magnitude is usually increased and the outcomes more severe. These countries take a lot longer to recover and usually see major economic downturn during this time, which can then affect the next disaster as vulnerable people are still as vulnerable due to a lack of economic growth.


The droughts in each area caused a significant disruption to normal life and saw quality of life drop as people manage and try to recover from the effects of the drought. The effects of each disaster vary as North America and Brazil experienced economic and crop losses but East africa experienced over a quarter million deaths with over 12 million people in need of help. This is a major difference which is influenced by the vulnerability of people within the countries. Due to Somalia being the most vulnerable as demonstrated by the climate change vulnerability index Somalia saw the greatest impact to human life due to the disaster. In America the vulnerability of individuals is a lot less compared to countries like Somalia resulting in less deaths and reduced displacement of people. Even Brazil with moderate vulnerability suffered worse then America with water and power restrictions being implemented to manage the disaster. Economic prosperity causes the impacts of disasters to change, with the most vulnerable countries being the ones that are the least economically prosperous.  

07 July 2022
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