Natural catastrophes resulted in total global economic losses of $270 billion, according to Swiss Re Institute. What was the number one natural disaster? Floods.

“Floods affect nearly a third of the world population, more than any other peril,” said Martin Bertogg, head of catastrophe perils at Swiss Re. “In 2021 alone, we witnessed more than 50 severe flood events across the world.”

Floodlist details some of the floods occuring so far in 2022. Severe flooding and landslides caused by heavy rainfall completely destroyed more than 12,000 houses and damaged roads, health centers and schools in South Africa. At least 16 people lost their lives after record rainfall of more than 800 mm/31 inches in 48 hours, which triggered flash floods and landslides in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yellowstone National Park’s June flooding shocked the nation when heavy flooding created rockslides and extremely dangerous conditions, closing all park entrances.

Floods already rank as the most destructive natural hazard in Northern Europe. In the U.S., floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning — and 75% of all presidential disaster declarations are associated with flooding.

“We’ve been involved in every major natural disaster that occurred in the last 17 years,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue told Bloomberg. “And certainly the frequency and severity of events is increasing. You don’t have to be a scientist to know the arrow is going up and to the right.”


Severe Weather Alerts

Floods are an equal-opportunity natural disaster, meaning they can occur at any time of the year. Some countries have rainy seasons, which could result in flash floods — heavy rainfall that doesn’t soak into the ground and creates runoff onto land. Storm surges — a rise above normal seawater level along a shore — occur with tropical cyclones and tsunamis.

You may think, “I’m not located near the coast, or even a major river.” Even tributaries can flood and sometimes they are the hardest hit by slow-moving storms. In New Hampshire, the Sugar River, a tributary of New England’s Connecticut River, often floods out roads in the region and causes damage on a large scale.

In an effort to provide a warning to national and regional authorities with flood risk management duties, the European Flood Awareness Systems is the first operational pan-European flood forecasting and monitoring system. The notifications are paired with local research in order to make a decision of warning (move to higher ground) or watch (be prepared).

In the United States, the National Weather Service provides flash flood and other warnings — typically for broad, city-wide or regional, weather patterns or large river systems — via text message and local media.

But not everyone knows what to do when they receive a flood warning. When the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam of the German Research Centre for Geosciences surveyed German residents, one-third of the people who received flood warnings reported having “no clue” what to do next.

[Related Reading: Four Ways to Survive a Hurricane]

Safety Tips for Floods

Never underestimate the power of water. Global Rescue experts provide some boots-on-the-ground advice for anyone comes face to face with more water than they expect.

“Floods affect nearly a third of the world population, more than any other peril,” said Martin Bertogg, head of catastrophe perils at Swiss Re. “In 2021 alone, we witnessed more than 50 severe flood events across the world.”

  • Research to see if you are living or traveling to a flood plain area. After you create a free account, the International Disaster Database has a searchable database with country profiles with natural and technological disasters. Risk Factor is another free online tool showing a location’s risk from environmental threats such as flooding and wildfires.
  • Tune in to the local news or NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions.
  • Download a weather app to your phone. Most are free, and provide hourly and daily forecasts as well as government information about severe weather events.
  • Listen to the hotel staff, your tour operator or the local authorities. They will likely have an emergency plan in place, which will include moving toward higher ground. If you are in your accommodation, stay away from windows. It is safest in an interior room or a stairwell without windows.
  • Keep your suitcase packed, as you may have to leave quickly. If you live in a flood zone, have a go-bag on hand. Have cash on hand in case you are not able to use your credit card or ATMs. The Red Cross offers a flood safety checklist.
  • If you do have to evacuate, turn around if you encounter a flooded road. According to the National Weather Service, most flood deaths occur in vehicles. It is important to know where you are relative to streams, rivers or creeks — which can become killers in heavy rains — before you get in the car.
  • Conserve water. When Yellowstone flooded, Billings, Montana was forced to close its water treatment plant. Billings’ officials estimated the city only had a 24- to 36-hour supply of water.
  • The spread of disease is a major concern. Avoid contact with flood water. Floodwater may spread bacteria, viruses, protozoa and other microbial contaminants causing illnesses ranging from mild stomach upset to serious diseases such as dysentery, infectious hepatitis and severe gastroenteritis.
  • Be prepared and know how to purify tap water; boil water directives may be in place for weeks after a flood. If you live in flood or hurricane areas, ensure you have plenty of bottled water.
  • Prepare to extend your trip. Bad weather could close the airport and, when it reopens, flights will book up immediately. Prepare to stay where you are longer than expected.

Why You Need Global Rescue

“Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires. The frequency and magnitude of natural disasters and crises around the world in the last couple of decades has been increasing and, with that increase, more and more organizations and people are impacted,” Richards said in an interview with Cheddar News. “Having a resource like Global Rescue is becoming increasingly important as these events occur more frequently and with greater struck force.”

Case in point: Although an international team of scientists and engineers carefully planned a research trip to Bangladesh and set up contingency plans for cyclones in mind, a storm with high winds and heavy rainfall was en route to their area. The expedition team called Global Rescue, initiating the first step of their disaster response plan before cyclonic storm Bulbul hit the Khulna region.

These services are included in the security membership. A qualifying security event can be a government declaration — issued by the foreign country you are visiting or the U.S. State Department — that you should evacuate the country for non-medical reasons, such as an unpredicted natural disaster, civil unrest or an act of terrorism. The event need not be countrywide. With the Global Rescue security add-on, we transport you from the point of illness or injury to the nearest medical facility.