Disasters & Emergency Relief

How many large natural disasters occur? How much does the government spend on disaster relief?

Latest update on March 30, 2023

What are some key facts and trends about disasters and emergency relief?

Disasters refer to incidents (natural or human-caused) that cause severe property damage, injuries, or death. Learn about how much the government spends on disaster relief and how many large-scale disasters have occurred in recent years.

Government spending on disaster & emergency relief

In fiscal year 2020, governments spent a combined total of $29.6 billion on disaster relief.

That’s $90 per person in the US.

USAFacts categorizes government budget data to allocate spending appropriately, and to arrive at the estimate presented here. Spending on disaster relief depends on what occurs in a given year. The fiscal year with the most disaster-related spending was 2006, immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

Government revenue and expenditures are based on data from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each is published annually, although due to collection times, state and local government data are not as current as federal data. Thus, when combining federal, state, and local revenues and expenditures, the most recent year for a combined number may be delayed.

Government agencies and elected officials

Level of government
Key actors


Federal Emergency Management Agency

Manage and coordinate disaster prevention and response


Local fire departments

Respond to and prevent local disasters

Level of government



Disaster declarations

In fiscal year 2023, there were 114 disaster declarations declared.

Primarily related to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were more disaster declarations issued in 2020 than in any year.

Disaster declarations are a federal designation that can be issued to a particular area to assist state and local government, individuals, and some organizations before or after a disaster. Declarations are issued on a state-by-state basis. Therefore, a single disaster, such as a hurricane or a pandemic, can lead to multiple declarations issued across multiple states.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal agency that is responsible for most disaster relief, tracks declarations. Disaster declarations are one way to measure the number of disasters that occur yearly, though it is not an official count. Read more about how disaster declarations work.

Billion-dollar disasters

So far in 2023, the US experienced 25 weather- or climate-related disasters where damages cost at least $1 billion.

There have been more billion-dollar disasters in 2023 than any year since 1980.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publishes a database of all disasters that caused more than $1 billion in direct costs to families, businesses, and infrastructure. Dating back to 1980, the database can be used to track the frequency of large disasters in the US.

Historical incidents are added based on inflation. The data would represent the incident if it caused damage exceeding $1 billion in today's dollars.

Costliest natural disasters since 1980

The costliest natural disaster since 1980 was Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) which caused an estimated $196.3 billion in damage and other costs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates the inflation-adjusted cost for each billion-dollar disaster.

Deadliest natural disasters since 1980

The deadliest natural disaster since 1980 was Hurricane Maria (September 2017), which killed 2,981 people.

In addition to the costs of billion-dollar disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also tracks the number of deaths caused by the incidents.

In spring through fall 2023, 227 people died due to drought and heatwaves in the South and Midwest.sa

Disaster and disaster relief articles
Disaster and disaster relief data