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FACTBOX-World to tackle deadly disasters at U.N. forum

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 18 May 2017 11:39 GMT

A woman crosses a bamboo made bridge over a breached dam caused by cyclone Aila in Shatkhira, Bangladesh June 4, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

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A list of the highest historical death tolls caused by extreme events and disasters such as lightning strikes, tropical cyclones and tornadoes

By Sophie Hares

TEPIC, Mexico, May 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cutting the human and financial cost of natural disasters, including more frequent extreme weather as the planet warms, will be in the spotlight next week as more than 5,000 experts gather in Mexico for a major U.N. conference.

Running from May 24-26, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is the first international summit since the 15-year Sendai Framework was agreed in Japan in 2015, setting ambitious targets for governments to substantially reduce deaths and damage from disasters by 2030, among others.

Ahead of the Global Platform, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is co-hosting a conference on early warning systems from May 22-23 in Cancun, where a raft of events will explore how to better protect people, infrastructure and services from disasters.

"Extreme weather causes serious destruction and major loss of life," Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said in a statement.

In the run-up to the gathering, the WMO has released a list of the highest historical death tolls from extreme events such as lightning strikes, tropical cyclones and tornadoes.

Here are some of them, alongside other facts on disasters:

  • The deadliest tropical cyclone killed around 300,000 when it hit Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, in November 1970, the WMO says.
  • The highest number of deaths caused by a tornado was about 1,300, in April 1989 when one ripped through the Manikganj district of Bangladesh, leaving 80,000 homeless.
  • In November 1994, 469 people were killed in Dronka, Egypt, when lightning set oil tanks on fire. A single lightning strike on a hut killed 21 people in Manica Tribal Trust Lands in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, in December 1975.
  • Natural disasters force some 26 million people into poverty each year, and cost the equivalent of $520 billion in lost consumption, according to the World Bank.
  • Around 11,000 people died in 2016 as a result of natural and manmade disasters, which cost $175 billion in economic losses, according to reinsurer Swiss Re. Hurricane Matthew was the year's deadliest natural catastrophe, claiming around 1,000 lives, primarily in Haiti.
  • Asia has the largest number of people exposed to natural disasters, but African countries are the most vulnerable to them, mainly because of political instability, corruption, poverty and inequality, according to 2016 research by Verisk Maplecroft, a UK-based risk management company.
  • India has a billion people at risk, with China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and Pakistan also ranked among the 10 countries with the most people exposed to natural hazards, Verisk Maplecroft data shows.
  • The World Disasters Report 2016, issued by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says only 40 cents in every $100 of development aid is spent on preparing for disasters and trying to prevent them.
  • The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, triggered by a 9.15 magnitude earthquake, killed around 226,000 people, one of the biggest natural disasters in history.
  • The number of weather and climate-related disasters more than doubled over the past 40 years, accounting for 6,392 events in the 20 years from 1996 to 2015, up from 3,017 in the period from 1976 to 1995.
  • Of the 1.35 million people killed by natural hazards from 1996 to 2015, 90 percent died in low and middle-income countries, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, which collects the data.
  • Over those two decades, 56 percent of deaths were caused by earthquakes and tsunamis, with the rest due to floods, storms, extreme temperatures, drought, landslides and wildfires.
  • In 15 of the 20 years, the greatest loss of life was due to extreme weather events.
  • No wealthy countries appear on the list of top 10 countries for disaster deaths in the last 20 years, which is led by Haiti, Indonesia and Myanmar. These three were hit hard by mega-disasters: the Haitian earthquake of 2010, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 respectively.

Sources: World Meteorological Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Verisk Maplecroft, World Bank, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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