DISASTERS related to weather have occurred almost every day for the past decade, killing 606,000 people and leaving 4.1 billion injured, homeless, or in need of emergency aid, a new report has said.
The report, The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters, published by the United Nations to tie in with next week’s climate-change summit in Paris, analysed data from all weather-related disasters over the past 20 years, since the first climate-change conference in 1995.
The survey found that, in the past two decades, 90 per cent of significant disasters have been caused by 6457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts, and other weather-related events. It also calculated that the financial cost of such disasters is much higher than previously thought: between $250-$300 billion (£165-£200 billion) each year.
The frequency of such disasters has almost doubled since the mid-1980s.
The worst-hit countries in the past decade have been the United States, with 472 reported disasters; China, 441; India, 288; the Philippines, 274; and Indonesia, 163. The region to suffer the greatest impact from extreme weather has been Asia, which has had 332,000 deaths, and where a further 3.7 billion people have been affected. The death toll in Asia includes 138,000 deaths caused by Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma (Myanmar) in 2008, the worst natural disaster in the period (News, 9 May 2008).
Another peak of extreme weather occurred in 2002, when widespread drought in India affected 200 million people, and a sandstorm in China affected a further 100 million.
“While scientists cannot calculate what percentage of this rise is due to climate change, predictions of more extreme weather in future almost certainly mean that we will witness a continued upward trend in weather-related disasters in the decades ahead,” the report said.
It goes on: “In order to plan for future risk reduction, two critical factors must be kept in mind: population growth will continue to put more and more people in harm’s way, while uncontrolled building on flood plains and storm-prone coastal zones will increase human vulnerabilities to extreme-weather events. The cost of such vulnerability is already evident from mounting death tolls since 1995.”
The report’s analysis was carried out by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, based in Belgium.
The head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström, said: “Weather and climate are major drivers of disaster risk, and this report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives lost. Economic losses are a major development challenge for many least developed countries battling climate change and poverty.
“In the long term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea-levels.”
The report found that floods accounted for nearly half of all weather-related disasters since 1995, but that storms caused 40 per cent of all weather-related deaths, most of them in lower-income countries.
Heatwaves are more likely to cause fatalities in higher-income countries: Europe accounts for 90 per cent of the 148,000 heatwave deaths. Droughts affect Africa more than any other continent: East Africa has experienced 77 droughts in the past 20 years.