Climate Change Driving A Spike in Natural Disasters in the 21st Century

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

According to a new report from the United Nations, in the last twenty years, there have been 7,348 natural disasters and that represents a dramatic increase over the twenty years prior.  Of those, 6,681 were climate-related, as opposed to 3,656 climate-related disasters in the years 1980-1999.  The toll of these disasters is staggering:  “disasters claimed approximately 1.23 million lives, an average of 60,000 per annum, and affected a total of over 4 billion people (many on more than one occasion). Additionally, disasters led to approximately US$ 2.97 trillion2 in economic losses worldwide.”

Why This Matters:  According to the UN  report’s authors, unless leaders in business and government take action, the world will become an “uninhabitable hell for millions of people.”  Yesterday was the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, and what this report confirms is that extreme weather events caused by climate change “dominate the disaster landscape in the 21st century,” particularly in the U.S. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make America less disastrous again?  The day for that is November 3rd.

Disasters By The Numbers

The report entitled “The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019” classifies a disaster as an event in which ten or more people were reported killed, 100 or more people were reported affected,  for which there was a declaration of a state of emergency and a call for international assistance.  The disasters were then broken down by type, such as flood, severe storm, earthquake, drought, etc.

In the last twenty years, the number of major floods more than doubled, from 1,389 to 3,254 and the incidence of storms grew from 1,457 to 2,034. Floods and storms were the most prevalent events, but there were also major increases in other categories including drought, wildfires, and extreme temperature events. The report also documents a rise in geo-physical events such as earthquakes and tsunamis, which were the most deadly.  China and the U.S. led the world in the number of disasters, with the U.S. having the most meteorological disasters of any country on the planet. Three mega-disasters occurred in the first twenty years of this century — the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

A key recommendation is that “[b]etter flood control is one ‘low-hanging fruit’ in DRR policy terms since affordable and effective technologies already exist, including dams, dykes, mobile dykes and improved early warning systems.”

The authors conclude:

“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people. It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.”

To Go Deeper: Read the full UN Report — it is only 17 pages long and worth your time.  Download it here.

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