Economic losses mount – WMO report | Sunday Observer
Climate and weather related disasters

Economic losses mount – WMO report

12 September, 2021

Climate change and increasingly extreme weather events, have caused a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years disproportionately impacting poorer countries, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) said on Wednesday.

According to the agencies ‘Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes’, from 1970 to 2019, these natural hazards accounted for 50 percent of all disasters, 45 percent of all reported deaths and 74 percent of all reported economic losses.

There were more than 11,000 reported disasters attributed to these hazards globally, with a little over two million deaths and $3.64 trillion in losses. Over 91 percent of the deaths occurred in developing countries. But the news is far from all bad. Thanks to improved early warning systems and disaster management, the number of deaths decreased almost threefold between 1970 and 2019 - falling from 50,000 in the 1970s to less than 20,000 in the 2010s, the report stated.

“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,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Extreme weather such as widespread drought is causing economic losses amongst farmers across the world. Of the top 10 disasters, droughts proved to be the deadliest hazard during the period, causing 650,000 deaths, followed by storms that led to 577,232 deaths; floods, which took 58.700 lives; and extreme temperature events, during which 55,736 died. Meanwhile, economic losses have increased sevenfold from the 1970s to the 2010s, going from an average of $49 million, to a whopping $383 million per day globally.

Storms, the most prevalent cause of damage, resulted in the largest economic losses around the globe.

Three of the costliest 10 disasters, all hurricanes that occurred in 2017, accounted for 35 per cent of total economic disaster losses around the world from 1970 to 2019.

In the United States, Hurricane Harvey caused $96.9 billion in damage, Maria in the Caribbean 69.4 billion, and Irma $58.2 billion in Cape Verde. “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”, said Mr. Taalas. “That means more heat waves, drought and forest fires such as those we have observed recently in Europe and North America”.

More water vapor in the atmosphere has exacerbated extreme rainfall and flooding, and the warming oceans have affected the frequency and extent of the most intense tropical storms, the WMO chief explained.

WMO cited peer-reviewed studies in the ’Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society’, showing that over the period 2015 to 2017, 62 of the 77 events reported, revealed a major human influence at play. Moreover, the probability of heatwaves has been significantly increased due to human activity, according to several studies done since 2015.