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Climate change has contributed to a five-fold increase in the number of weather-related disasters over the past 50 years, according to a new report released by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
According to the report, around 11,000 disasters were documented between 1970 and 2019 due to weather events, water hazards and climatic extremes. The disasters have been responsible for two million deaths and $ 3.6 trillion in losses, the WMO estimated. More than 91 percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries.
The WMO report indicates that of the 77 documents on weather-related disasters between 2015 and 2017, 62 showed significant human influence. In a statement accompanying the report’s release, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that as the world continues to heat up, these totals will climb.
“This means more heat waves, droughts and forest fires like the ones we’ve seen recently in Europe and North America. We have more water vapor in the atmosphere, which makes them worse. extreme rainfall and fatal flooding, ”Taalas said. “Warming oceans have affected the frequency and area of existence of the most intense tropical storms.”
The report comes against the backdrop of numerous warnings about climate change. Extreme weather conditions hit communities from the Pacific Northwest to Siberia to China. A major climate report released in August by the UN climate body found that global warming is accelerating and that human activities are the main driver. On Monday, more than 200 medical and health journals from around the world released an unprecedented joint statement declaring that the greatest health crisis facing humanity is climate change, not the pandemic.
The two deadliest extreme weather events, a drought in Ethiopia in 1983 and a tropical cyclone in 1970 in Bangladesh, each claimed an estimated 300,000 lives, according to the disaster report.
The United States has suffered the greatest economic losses from weather disasters. The five costliest disasters are all hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States over the past two decades, led by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which caused damage estimated at $ 164 billion and killed more than 1 800 people.
The second, third and fourth most costly storms all occurred in 2017: Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma.
The report also noted that part of the documented increase in frequency is the result of improved disaster reporting.
Weather-related disasters have become much less deadly
Despite the increasing frequency and severity of disasters, there are grounds for hope.
Thanks to improved early warning systems and better disaster management, deaths from disasters have almost tripled over the past five decades.
In the 1970s, an average of 50,000 people died each year as a result of weather-related disasters, according to the report. In the 2010s, the annual number was less than 20,000.
“Quite simply, we are better than ever at saving lives,” Taalas said.
But there is still a lot of room for improvement. Dozens of countries in the developing world still lack adequate early warning systems, and there are significant gaps in data collection networks in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. This makes it more difficult to adequately prepare for future disasters and increases the risk of death.
Hundreds of millions of people at risk of displacement by extreme weather conditions
These worsening disasters have consequences that extend beyond the loss of life and the economic toll, as climate change threatens to make parts of the world unlivable.
Mami Mizutori, UN official in charge of the office for disaster risk reduction, said that although the world is now better equipped to prevent deaths, population growth and the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events have leads to a displacement crisis.
“More international cooperation is needed to tackle the chronic problem of large numbers of people displaced by floods, storms and drought every year,” she said. “We need more investment in comprehensive disaster risk management by ensuring that climate change adaptation is mainstreamed into national and local disaster risk reduction strategies.
The Institute for Economics and Peace estimated last year that a total of 1.2 billion people are at risk of being displaced by climate change by 2050.
Things will get worse as climate change continues
The report’s release coincides with extreme weather conditions making headlines around the world.
In the United States, Hurricane Ida and its remains caused catastrophic damage and rains first on the Gulf Coast, then across the central Atlantic and the northeast. The storm – blamed for more than 60 deaths – triggered the first-ever flash flood emergency in New York City.
In the American West, wildfires dominate the landscape and much of the region is struggling with drought.
And unless drastic measures are taken to stop greenhouse gas pollution and limit future warming, weather-related disasters will continue to become more frequent and more severe – with more disasters occurring. simultaneously producing.