The Riskiest Places for Natural Disasters

People search through debris in the wake of a disaster

Just four countries — the Philippines, China, Japan and Bangladesh — are the targets of more natural disasters than anywhere else on Earth. They are the world's riskiest countries and are the most vulnerable to storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wildfires and landslides, among other calamities.


Verisk Maplecroft, a London-based company specializing in risk assessments, compiled the list, naming Port Vila, Vanuatu as the riskiest place of all. And that was tragically prescient. The list was published on March 4, and just 12 days later Super Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through that tiny island nation that sits about 1,200 miles from the coast of Australia. At least 24 people were killed and 3,000 others were displaced. Nearly all the buildings on Vanuatu's main island were destroyed.

Verisk Maplecroft predicted Port Vila's exposure because of storm potential, seismic activity — which could bring about a tsunami — as well as the fact that Vanuatu is located in an isolated location in the South Pacific. More than a quarter of a million people live on the island chain.

Its vulnerability was not lost its leaders either: Ironically, President Baldwin Lonsdale was in Japan at a United Nation's disaster risk conference when the cyclone struck.

The Philippines

That should also be of concern to the Philippines, which is home to eight of the top 10 riskiest places in the world. "Natural hazard risk is compounded in the Philippines by poor institutional and societal capacity to manage, respond and recover from natural hazards events," Verisk Maplecroft reports.

Bangladeshi villagers stand atop an embankment following Cyclone Aila in 2010
Bangladeshi villagers stand atop an embankment following Cyclone Aila in 2010. Bangladesh's low-lying nature makes it easy prey for creeping sea level rise.

Munir uz-Zaman / Getty Images

Taipei City, Taiwan is the only other city outside the Philippines besides Port Vila to rank in the top 10.

China, Japan, and Bangladesh

Still, China, Japan and Bangladesh are almost equally vulnerable, with major population areas exposed to storms, floods and earthquakes. Bangladesh is famously low-lying and particularly susceptible to sea level rise.

"As typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the tsunami in Japan showed us, natural hazard events can have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts," Richard Hewston, principal environmental analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said. "Understanding how, where and why those risks manifest is an imperative in managing potential shocks."

The United States

Even countries geographically located outside direct physical threats from natural hazards can be affected by them.

The United States, for example, has only one location, New Orleans, that is among the top 50 most vulnerable places in the world. Yet, because so many U.S. businesses have suppliers in risky regions and because so many U.S. investors have also invested in those areas, the United States has the second greatest economic exposure to natural disasters of any country, only exceeded by Japan. China, India, and Taiwan round out the top five countries most at risk financially.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa quickly follows in terms of both social and economic risks, and many of those countries are at extreme risk because of a lack of infrastructure.

Focusing on ways to become more resilient and how to more safely adapt to wicked weather are measures world leaders urgently need to address. In fact that was the theme of the disaster conference being held in Japan when Cyclone Pam roared through Vanuatu.

We should heed that loud threat by nature, which was timed so exactly. More populous areas are just as exposed.