‘No earthquake, drought or hurricane in recorded history took more lives than the Covid-19 pandemic’

‘No earthquake, drought or hurricane in recorded history took more lives than the Covid-19 pandemic’
30 January 2023

By the IFRC

(This story is an IFRC press release issued in Geneva earlier today. It has been edited slightly here for length and the add below.)

No earthquake, drought or hurricane in recorded history has claimed more lives than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the world’s largest disaster response network, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The shocking death toll – estimated at more than 6.5 million people – has inspired the humanitarian organization to take a deep dive into how countries can prepare for the next global health emergency.        

Two ground-breaking reports released by the IFRC today, World Disasters Report 2022 and the Everyone Counts Report, offer insights into successes and challenges over the past three years – and make recommendations for how leaders can mitigate tragedies of this magnitude in the future.


Jagan Chapagain, IFRC Secretary General, said today: “The Covid-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for the global community to prepare now for the next health crisis.

“Our recommendations to world leaders centre around building trust, tackling inequality, and leveraging local actors and communities to perform life-saving work. The next pandemic could be just around the corner; if the experience of Covid-19 won’t quicken our steps toward preparedness, what will?”

The IFRC network reached at least 1.1 billion people over the past three years to help keep them safe from the virus.

During that time, a theme that emerged repeatedly was the importance of trust. When people trusted safety messages, they were willing to comply with public health measures that sometimes separated them from their loved ones in order to slow the spread of the disease and save lives.

Similarly, it was only possible to vaccinate millions of people in record time when most of them trusted that the vaccines were safe and effective. 

Those responding to crises cannot wait until the next time to build trust. It must be cultivated through genuinely two-way communication, proximity, and consistent support over time.

In the course of their work, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams documented how the Covid-19 pandemic both thrived on and exacerbated inequalities. Poor sanitation, overcrowding, lack of access to health and social services, and malnutrition create conditions for diseases to spread faster and further.

The world must address inequitable health and socio-economic vulnerabilities far in advance of the next crisis. 

‘Local knowledge’

In the Everyone Counts Report – which surveyed National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from nearly every country in the world – the IFRC found that teams were able to quickly respond to the pandemic because they were already present in communities and many of them had engaged in preparedness efforts, had prior experience responding to epidemics, and were strong auxiliaries to their local authorities. 

“Community-based organizations are an integral part of pandemic preparedness and response. Local actors and communities, as front-line responders, have distinct but equally important roles to play in all phases of disease outbreak management.

“Their local knowledge needs to be leveraged for greater trust, access, and resilience,” Mr Chapagain added.  


The Covid-19 pandemic took place against a background of other hazards, also analysed by the IFRC for its new reports, the Climate Centre writes.

During 2020–21 there were 710 disasters triggered by natural hazards that killed nearly 30,000 people and affected over 220 million. “The majority of these [or just over 90 per cent] were climate- and weather-related disasters,” World Disasters Report 2022 says, “far outstripping geological disasters or those caused by human technology. This continues an ongoing trend”.

In World Disasters Report 2020, the IFRC reported that 76 per cent of reported disasters in the 1960s were climate- and weather-related, a proportion that had risen to 83 per cent in 2010–2019.

On this issue, the report concludes: “This rise in climate- and weather-related disasters, and in disease outbreaks, means disasters are increasingly overlapping in time and/or space, or occurring in rapid succession.

“Over the last 60 years there has been an increase in the number of instances of countries experiencing two or more disasters in the same year [exacerbating] each other’s impacts,” including many instances where disasters triggered by natural hazards appear to have driven spikes in Covid-19.

“The sobering conclusion is that we now live in a multi-hazard world, in which communities will frequently be confronted with multiple hazards like disease outbreaks, floods and heatwaves. This poses a considerable preparedness challenge.”

World Disaster Report 2022 from the IFRC, released today alongside the Everyone Counts Report.