There are more and more extreme weather events. In return, they are leaving fewer victims than ever

  • 2

It seems like a contradiction, a nonsense, but it only seems so. There are more and more people on the planet and natural disasters are becoming more frequent. However, and despite the drift of these two indicators, each time, too, floods, droughts, torrential rains, heat waves and other extreme weather events claim fewer victims. And to show a button: since 1970 the number of disasters has increased fivefold, an increase that experts associate, among other factors, with climate change; but the death toll is today three times smaller.

And everything, eye, despite the increase in population on the planet: if in 1950 we lived around 2,540 million people on Earth, in 2020 we were already 7,790 million.

How is it possible?

A nonsense with a lot of sense

A few months ago the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published a report with a clear warning: “climate-related disasters” have increased since the 1970s. Specifically, they have increased fivefold over the last five decades. And they haven’t done it just because, but, to a large extent, thanks to our help. According to his calculations, in the 1980s, 1,400 incidents were recorded – his tables include extreme weather, climate and water events – and in the 1990s, just over 2,200. In the first decade of the 21st century, 3,500 were reached and during the last one, which covers from 2010 to 2019, it was close to 3,200.

The rise is explained for the WMO technicians by the sum of several factors. The communication and the tools that we have to know what is happening on the other side of the planet are today, for example, much more greased than in the time of Elvis and that leaves an undeniable mark on the statistics. For the organization, however, there is another factor that is just as clear: the influence of humanity in the climate, in the warming of the oceans or heat waves.

Climate change is first and foremost a question of money: this was what the 2021 disasters cost

“The number of extreme weather, climate and hydrological events is increasing, and such events will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” highlighted Petterie TaalasWMO Secretary-General: “That means more heat waves, droughts and wildfires. There is more water vapor in the atmosphere and that exacerbates extreme rainfall events and deadly floods. In addition, warming oceans have changed both the frequency of the most intense tropical storms as the area in which they occur”.

Interestingly, this increase in the number of disasters has coincided with a decrease in the number of victims. Contrary to what common sense indicates, while the balance of catastrophes grew fatter, that of the deceased thinned out. The WMO data is clearalso: from more than 50,000 deaths in the 1970s — incidents basically related to weather and water are taken into account — it went to less than 20,000 in 2010. From an average of 170 daily in the 70s and 80, it dropped in the 90s to less than a hundred daily and to 40 at the beginning of the 21st century.

Natural Disasters

Although their totals do not match those of the WMO, the panel prepared by Our World in Data based on EM-DAT data, which includes a wide range of events including droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, storms, landslides, heat waves and wildfires, draw a similar trend. If in the 1920s there was an annual average of more than 500,000 deaths related to natural catastrophes -drought and famine alone ended the lives of over three million people in China between 1928 and 1930—, in the first decade of the XXI the indicator had fallen below 50,000.

Behind that apparent contradiction is, WMO explains, our own preparation for natural disasters. The agency confirms that we face them and manage them more efficiently and that, in the end, is helping to save lives. “Improved multi-hazard early warning systems have led to a significant reduction in mortality. Quite simply, we are better than ever at saving lives”, highlights Taalas, who warns, in any case, that there is still work ahead to continue reducing the global balance of deaths.

Tasks still pending

“Only half of the 193 WMO members have multi-hazard early warning systems and there are serious gaps in meteorological and hydrological observation networks in Africa, some parts of Latin America and in the island states of the Pacific and the Caribbean,” he warns. the director of the WMO. Moreover, although floods like the recorded last year in Central Europe, where they left more than 200 dead, show that natural disasters affect the entire planet; the truth is over 91% of reported deaths between 1970 and 2019 they concentrated on those known, following the terminology of the United Nations, as developing countries.

Natural Disasters 1

“More lives are saved thanks to early warning systems, but it is also true that the number of people exposed to disaster risk is increasing due to population growth in hazard-prone areas and the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events. “, Mami Mizutori agreesdirector of the UNDRR. The disasters that claim the most lives, at least in the last 50 years, are droughts, storms, floods and extreme temperatures. Only in Spain, the heat wave that shook the country in 2003 left a balance, according to WMO dataof just over 15,000 deaths.

What does not remit is the economic footprint of natural disasters, the balance of catastrophes in euros and dollars in hard cash. The WMO report quantifies $3.6 trillion in losses between 1970 and 2019, a sum that has been increasing over the decades. “Economic losses have increased sevenfold from the 1970s to the 2010s. Reported losses between 2010 and 2019 ($383 million per day on average over the decade) were seven times the amount reported between 1970 and 1979 ( $49 million)” ditch.

The lack of water is not only due to the drought: the impact of electricity with the emptying of reservoirs

In this, too, natural disasters reflect global inequalities. On the “TOP 10” of disasters prepared by the WMO There is a curious divergence: if the number of deaths is taken into account, the phenomena with the greatest impact recorded over the last five decades are mainly concentrated in Africa and Asia, although there are also some localized episodes in Russia and Venezuela; However, if the economic scope is valued, practically all the cases are registered in the United States, with a particularly intense registration so far this century.

Along similar lines, just a few weeks ago the ‘2021 Weather, Climate and Catastrophes’ report, prepared by the consulting firm Aon, calculated that just last year weather events had left a global bill of approximately $329 billionwhich made 2021 the third year on record with the largest volume of losses.

Another magnitude to measure a problem that seems to gain scope.

Cover Image | Hayward Jonathan/CP/ABACA

It seems like a contradiction, a nonsense, but it only seems so. There are more and more people on the…

It seems like a contradiction, a nonsense, but it only seems so. There are more and more people on the…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.