GENEVA – Weather disasters hit the world four to five times more often and cause seven times more damage than in the 1970s, reports the United Nations Meteorological Agency.
But these disasters kill far fewer people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they killed an average of around 170 people a day worldwide. In the 2010s the number dropped to about 40 a day that World Meteorological Organization said in a report Wednesday looking at more than 11,000 weather disasters over the past half century.
The report comes during a global catastrophic summer in which the United States was hit simultaneously by powerful Hurricane Ida and an onslaught of drought-exacerbated forest fires.
“The good news is that once the number of disasters increases: heat waves, floods, droughts, and most importantly … intense tropical storms like Ida, which recently struck Louisiana, we’ve managed to minimize the number of casualties.” and Mississippi in the United States, “said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of WMO, at a press conference.
“But the bad news is that economic losses have increased very quickly and that growth is set to continue,” he added. “We will see more climatic extremes due to climate change, and these negative climate trends will continue in the coming decades.”
In the 1970s, the world experienced an average of about 711 weather disasters per year, but from 2000 to 2009 it was up to 3,536 per year, or nearly 10 per day, according to the report Center for research on the epidemiology of disasters in Belgium. The average number of annual disasters fell slightly to 3,165 in the 2010s, the report said.
Most of the deaths and damage over 50 years of weather disasters were due to storms, floods and droughts.
More than 90 percent of the more than 2 million deaths are in developing countries, while the United Nations does nearly 60 percent of economic damage in richer countries.
In the 1970s, global weather disasters cost about $ 175 million a year after adjusting for the 2019 US dollar, the UN found. In the 2010s that rose to $ 1.38 billion a year.
What is driving the destruction is more people are moving to dangerous areas as climate change makes weather disasters stronger and more frequent, UN disaster and weather officials said. Meanwhile, they said better weather warnings and better preparedness are reducing the death toll.
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“The good news is we’re learning to live with risk and protect ourselves,” said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, who was not part of the report. “On the other hand, we still make stupid decisions about where to place our infrastructure. … But it’s OK. We don’t lose lives, we just lose things. “
Hurricane Ida is a fine example of severe damage and likely fewer lives than previous major hurricanes, Cutter said. This year, she added, weather disasters come “every couple of weeks” with Ida, forest fires in the US and floods in Germany, China and Tennessee.
“The number of weather, climate and water extremes is increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” said WMO General Secretary Petteri Taalas.
The five most costly weather disasters since 1970 were all storms in the United States, surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the report said.
The five deadliest weather disasters occurred in Africa and Asia – crowned by the Ethiopian drought and famine in the mid-1980s and cyclone Bhola in Bangladesh in 1970.