Weather-related disasters have increased fivefold over past 50 years

UN body says developing countries are particularly affected by extreme weather events

TOPSHOT - A couple watches an helicopter dropping water on a wildfire near Monchique, in Algarve, on August 8, 2018. - Spain and Portugal approached record temperatures at the weekend, with the mercury hitting 46.6 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) at El Granado in Spain and 46.4 C in Alvega, Portugal, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). While the deadly hot spell is expected to ease in parts of western Europe in the coming days, firefighters in Spain and Portugal struggled to contain wildfires that have swept southern areas. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)
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Weather-related disasters have increased fivefold over the past 50 years and are being fuelled by climate change, a report says.

From 1970 to 2019, there were 11,000 reported disasters related to extreme weather events, says the World Meteorological Organisation's report, Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019).

The UN agency in Geneva says these disasters have resulted in more than 2 million deaths and $3.64 trillion in losses for the global economy.

The WMO says the report is the most comprehensive review of mortality and economic loss from weather and climate extremes to date.

In all, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50 per cent of all disasters, 45 per cent of all reported deaths and 74 per cent of all reported economic losses.

Of the top 10 disasters, droughts were responsible for 650,000 deaths, while storms (577,232 deaths), floods (58,700 deaths) and extreme temperature (55,736 deaths) accounted for the rest.

More than 90 per cent of these deaths occurred in developing countries.

However, improved early warnings and disaster management has helped the number of deaths to decline threefold in the same period, the report says.

“The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” says WMO Secretary General Prof Petteri Taalas.

“That means more heatwaves, drought and forest fires such as those we have observed recently in Europe and North America.

"We have more water vapour in the atmosphere, which is exacerbating extreme rainfall and deadly flooding.

"The warming of the oceans has affected the frequency and area of existence of the most intense tropical storms.

“Economic losses are mounting as exposure increases. But behind the stark statistics lies a message of hope.

"Improved multi-hazard early warning systems have led to a significant reduction in mortality. Quite simply, we are better than ever before at saving lives."

The Ethiopian drought of 1983 and the Storm Bola, which hit Bangladesh in 1970, were considered the worst disasters in terms of death toll after they claimed the lives of 300,000 people.

The worst disasters in terms of economic cost was Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in losses totalling $163 billion.

The report also claims that 62 of the 77 weather events reported in the years of 2015 to 2017 showed a significant human influence.

"Climate change has increased extreme sea-level events associated with some tropical cyclones, which have increased the intensity of other extreme events such as flooding and associated impacts," the report says.

"This has increased the vulnerability of low-lying megacities, deltas, coasts and islands in many parts of the world."

The report recommends that early warning systems be put in place in areas with the least amount of coverage, including Africa, the Caribbean and South-East Asia.

It also recommends the strengthening of disaster reporting and related statistics to ensure hazard impact data is reported accurately and consistently.

Updated: September 01, 2021, 7:30 AM