Burnt stumps, reminders of the former forest, are a signature of Amazon grazing lands. Picture: LARISSA ZAIDAN/BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
Burnt stumps, reminders of the former forest, are a signature of Amazon grazing lands. Picture: LARISSA ZAIDAN/BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Geneva — The number of natural disasters driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 40 years, killing more than 2-million people and costing $3.64-trillion in total losses, a UN agency said on Wednesday.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says its “Atlas” is the most comprehensive review of mortality and economic losses from weather, water and climate extremes ever produced.

It surveys about 11,000 disasters occurring from 1979 to 2019, including major catastrophes such as Ethiopia’s 1983 drought — the most deadly single event with 300,000 fatalities — and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that was the most costly, with losses of $163.61bn.

The report shows an accelerating trend, with the number of disasters increasing nearly fivefold from the 1970s to the most recent decade, adding to signs that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent due to global warming.

The WMO attributed the growing frequency to both climate change and improved disaster reporting.

Costs from the events also surged from $175.4bn in the 1970s to $1.38-trillion in the 2010s when storms such as Harvey, Maria and Irma ripped through the US.

“Economic losses are mounting as exposure increases,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in the report’s foreword.

But while hazards became more costly and frequent, the annual death toll has fallen from more than 50,000 in the 1970s to about 18,000 in the 2010s, suggesting that better planning was paying off.

“Improved multi-hazard early warning systems have led to a significant reduction in mortality,” Taalas added.

The WMO hopes the report, which gives a detailed regional breakdown, will be used to help governments develop policies to better protect people.

More than 91% of the 2-million deaths occurred in developing countries and only half of the WMO’s 193 members have multi-hazard early warning systems, the report says.

It also said that “severe gaps” in weather observations, especially in Africa, were undermining the accuracy of early warning systems.

Reuters

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