Weather disasters are becoming more frequent and costly, UN agency says

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, caused by climate change has quintupled over the past 50 years, killing more than 2 million people and costing $ 3.64 trillion in total losses, said Wednesday a United Nations agency.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says its “Atlas” is the most comprehensive examination ever of mortality and economic loss due to extreme weather, hydrology and climatic conditions.

It lists some 11,000 disasters that occurred between 1970 and 2019, including major disasters such as the 1983 drought in Ethiopia, which was the deadliest event with 300,000 deaths, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which was the most expensive, with losses of $ 163.6 billion.

The WMO, whose report was released days after Category 4 Hurricane Ida hit southern Louisiana, attributed the increasing frequency to climate change and improved disaster reporting.

“Thanks to the improvement of our early warning service, we have been able to reduce the number of victims in these kinds of events, but the bad news is that the economic losses have increased very quickly and this growth is expected to continue. continue, “said the Secretary of WMO. -General Petteri Taalas said at a press conference.

“We are going to see more climatic extremes due to climate change and this negative climate trend will continue over the next decades,” he said.

The report showed an accelerating trend, with the number of disasters having almost quintupled between the 1970s and the most recent decade, adding to signs that extreme weather events are increasingly common due to global warming.

The costs of the events also fell from $ 175.4 billion in the 1970s to $ 1.38 trillion in the 2010s, when storms such as Harvey, Maria and Irma ravaged the United States.

But as the risks became more costly and more frequent, the annual death toll rose from over 50,000 in the 1970s to around 18,000 in the 2010s, suggesting that better planning was paying off.

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 have occurred in developing countries, according to the report, noting that only half of WMO’s 193 members have multi-hazard early warning systems.

He also said “serious gaps” in weather observations, especially in Africa, compromised the accuracy of early warning systems.

Mami Mizutori, head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, urged the world’s major economies to help hard-hit developing countries invest in warning systems and risk modeling.

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