Better disaster data enables better decisionsGeneva, 11 July 2014 (WMO) - Weather, climate and water-related disasters are on the rise worldwide, causing loss of life and setting back economic and social development by years, if not decades. From 1970 to 2012, 8 835 disasters, 1.94 million deaths, and US$ 2.4 trillion of economic losses were reported globally as a result of hazards such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics, according to a new report.
The Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes 1970-2012 describes the distribution and impacts of weather, climate, and water-related disasters and highlights measures to increase resilience. It is a joint publication of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium.
The Atlas aims to provide decision-makers with actionable information for protecting life and property.
It is also highlights the need for stronger efforts to report, standardize and analyze data on weather, climate, and water-related hazards to improve understanding of disasters and reinforce the platform for prevention.
The report was published ahead of the First Session of the Preparatory Committee Meeting (Geneva 14-15 July) for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. It seeks to inform debate on the post-2015 framework both for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
Storms and floods accounted for 79 per cent of the total number of disasters due to weather, climate and water extremes and caused 55 per cent of lives lost and 86 per cent of economic losses between 1970 and 2012, according to the Atlas. Droughts caused 35 per cent of lives lost, mainly due to the severe African droughts of 1975 and 1983–1984.
The 1983 drought in Ethiopia ranked top of the list of human casualties, claiming 300 000 lives, as did Cyclone Bhola in Bangladesh in 1970. Drought in Sudan in 1984 killed 150 000 people, whilst the Cyclone locally known as Gorky killed 138 866 people in Bangladesh in 1991.
Hurricane Katrina in the United States of America in 2005 caused the worst economic losses, at US$ 146.89 billion, followed by Sandy in 2012 with a cost of $ 50 billion.
The worst ten reported disasters in terms of lives lost occurred primarily in least developed and developing countries, whereas the economic losses were mainly in more developed countries.
“Disasters caused by weather, climate, and water-related hazards are on the rise worldwide. Both industrialized and non-industrialized countries are bearing the burden of repeated floods, droughts, temperature extremes and storms,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“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.”
The report highlighted the importance of historical, geo-referenced information about deaths and damages to estimate risks before the next disaster occurs. This information can support practical decisions on reducing potential impacts by, for example, improved early warning systems, retrofitting critical infrastructure, or enforcing new building codes.
Another challenge for users of risk information is the changing characteristics (frequency, location, severity) of weather-, climate- and water-related hazards. 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 WMO-CRED-Louvain report seeks to raise awareness of these and other challenges to collecting and analyzing disaster risk information. It presents a worldwide analysis of extreme weather, climate and water events drawing on the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), compiled by CRED. The Atlas compares the reported impacts of meteorological, climatic and hydrological extremes (as categorized by CRED) on people and economies at both the global and regional levels.
South America: From 1970 to 2012, South America experienced 696 reported disasters that resulted in 54 995 lives lost and US$ 71.8 billion in economic damages. With regard to impacts, floods caused the greatest loss of life (80 per cent) and the most economic loss (64 per cent). The most significant event during the period was a flood and land and mudslide that occurred in Venezuela in late 1999 and caused 30 000 deaths. This single event skews the loss of life statistics significantly for the entire region.
North America, Central America and the Caribbean reported 1 631 disasters that caused the loss of 71,246 lives and economic damages of US$ 1 008.5 billion. The majority of the reported disasters in this region were attributed to storms (55 per cent) and floods (30 per cent). Storms were reported to be the greatest cause of lives lost (72 per cent) and of economic loss (79 per cent).
The South-West Pacific region experienced 1 156 reported disasters in 1970–2012 that resulted in 54684 deaths and US$ 118.4 billion in economic loss. The majority were caused by storms (46 per cent) and floods (38 per cent). The most significant reported disasters with regard to lives lost were tropical cyclones, mainly in the Philippines, including the event of 1991, which killed 5956 people. The 1981 drought in Australia caused US$ 15.2 billion in economic losses and the 1997 wildfires in Indonesia caused nearly US$ 11.4 billion in losses.
In Europe, 1 352 reported disasters claimed 149 959 lives and caused US$ 375.7 billion in economic damages. Floods (38 per cent) and storms (30 per cent) were the most reported cause of disasters, but extreme temperatures led to the highest proportion of deaths (94 per cent), with 72 210 lives lost during the 2003 western European heat wave and 55 736 during the 2010 heat wave in the Russian Federation. In contrast, floods and storms accounted for most of the economic losses during the period.
Weather, Climate and Water
Clare Nullis, Media Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, Tel: +(41 22) 730 8478; (41-79) 7091397, email: cnullis (at) wmo.int
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