A Comprehensive Measure of Lifeyears Lost due to COVID-19 in 2020: A Comparison across Countries and with Past Disasters

Glob Policy. 2021 Sep;12(4):553-561. doi: 10.1111/1758-5899.12957. Epub 2021 Sep 19.


Typically, disaster damages are measured separately in four dimensions: fatalities, injuries, dislocations, and the financial damage that they wreak. Noy (2016) developed a lifeyears index of disaster damage which aggregates these disparate measures. Here, we use this lifeyears index to assess the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic across countries and compare these costs to the average annual costs of all other disasters that have occurred in all countries in the past 20 years. We find that the costs of the pandemic, measured for 2020, far outweigh the annual costs associated with other disasters in the past two decades. It is the economic loss that dominates this impact. The human and social implications of this economic loss are plausibly much greater than the direct toll in mortality and morbidity in almost all countries. Finally, it is small countries like the Maldives and Guyana that have experienced the most dramatic and painful crisis, largely under the radar of the world's attention. Our conclusion from these findings is not that governments' policy reactions were unwarranted. If anything, we find that the loss of lifeyears is correlated positively across the three dimensions we examine. Countries that experienced a deeper health crisis also experienced a deeper economic one.