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Atlas of death and loss shows global climate disasters are on the rise

by Megan Rowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 11 July 2014 14:40 GMT

A typhoon survivor gathers firewood from the ruins of houses destroyed during super typhoon Haiyan in central Philippines December 15, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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Weather, climate and water extremes caused nearly two million deaths from 1970 to 2012

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A global atlas of deaths and economic losses caused by weather, climate and water extremes shows disasters are on the rise worldwide, setting back development by years if not decades, its publishers said.

Between 1970 and 2012, 8,835 disasters were reported due to natural hazards including droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics, causing nearly two million deaths and $2.4 trillion of economic losses, according to the atlas.

Issued on Friday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain, it does not track losses from earthquakes or volcanoes.

"Improved early warning systems and disaster management are helping to prevent loss of life. But the socio-economic impact of disasters is escalating because of their increasing frequency and severity, and the growing vulnerability of human societies," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement.

The atlas was released ahead of a first meeting next week of an inter-governmental preparatory committee for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. At the conference in Japan in March 2015, governments are due to approve a new global framework to reduce disaster risk, as the existing one expires next year.  

"Better reporting of disaster impacts is vital for strengthening disaster risk reduction," noted the atlas, adding that the international community should help vulnerable countries improve their ability to develop high-quality damage and loss databases.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said it has assisted 71 countries in establishing national loss databases, and is working with 10 more.

"Collecting global loss data that are comparable and complete is a major challenge," said CRED Director Debarati Sapir. "(Such data can) support practical decisions on reducing the human consequences of disasters, for example by investing in early warning systems or targeting the most vulnerable communities."

Another challenge is that natural climate variability is now exacerbated by long-term, human-induced climate change, "so that yesterday's norms will not be the same as tomorrow’s," the atlas said.


Here are some key facts from the report, which provides global statistics and maps, alongside details on disasters at the regional level:

- Storms and floods accounted for 79 percent of the total number of disasters due to weather, climate and water extremes between 1970 and 2012. They caused 55 percent of deaths and 86 percent of economic losses

- Droughts caused 35 percent of lives lost, mainly due to the severe African droughts of 1975 and 1983–1984

- Topping the list of human casualties were the 1983 drought in Ethiopia and Cyclone Bhola in Bangladesh in 1970, which both claimed 300,000 lives. Drought in Sudan in 1984 killed 150,000 people, while a 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh killed 138,866.

- Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 caused the worst economic losses, at $146.89 billion, followed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 at $50 billion.    

- The worst 10 reported disasters in terms of lives lost occurred mainly in least-developed and developing countries. While they represented only 0.1 percent of the total number of events, they accounted for 69 percent (1.34 million) of the total deaths

- Economic losses were concentrated in more developed countries, with the 10 most costly disasters responsible for 19 percent ($443.6 billion) of overall losses

- Asia suffered the highest number of disasters reported, at 2,681, causing more than 915,000 deaths and economic damages of nearly $790 billion. Most of the disasters were caused by floods (45 percent) and storms (35 percent), with storms responsibly for three quarters of lives lost

- In Africa, where there were 1,319 reported disasters, 698,380 people died and economic damages were $26.6 billion. Floods were the most common disaster but droughts led to the highest number of deaths

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