Bullit Marquez / AP

UN: Weather disasters occur almost daily

UN report says weather-related floods and heat waves doubled in frequency in last decade; Asia is hardest-hit region

Weather-related disasters such as floods and heat waves have occurred almost daily in the past decade — nearly twice as often as two decades ago — and Asia is the hardest-hit region, the United Nations said in a report released Monday.

While the report’s authors didn’t pin the increase wholly on climate change, they said extreme weather events were likely to increase.

Weather disasters have killed 606,000 people and left 4.1 billion injured, homeless or in need of aid, and have accounted for 90 percent of all disasters since 1995, the report said.

A recent peak year was 2002, when drought in India affected 200 million people and a sandstorm in China affected 100 million. But the standout mega-disaster in the report was Cyclone Nargis, which killed 138,000 in Myanmar in 2008.

While geophysical events like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis often grab headlines, they only make up one in 10 of the disasters trawled from a database of events defined by their impact.

The report, titled “The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters,” found an average of 335 weather-related disasters annually between 2005 and August 2015 — up 14 percent from 1995 to 2004, and almost twice as many as in the years from 1985 to 1994.

“While scientists cannot calculate what percentage of this rise is due to climate change, predictions of more extreme weather in future almost certainly mean that we will witness a continued upward trend in weather-related disasters in the decades ahead,” the report said.

The release of the report comes a week before world leaders were set to gather in Paris to discuss plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate a global rise in temperatures.

The U.N. has said atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, have risen to a new record every year for the past 30 years.

“All we can say is that certain disaster types are increasing. Floods are definitely increasing,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir, professor at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at UCL University in Louvain, Belgium, which co-authored the report.

“Whether it's increasing due to global warming, I think it's safe to say the jury's out on that. But rather than focus on the ifs, whys and wherefores, I think we should focus on how to manage floods.”

Margareta Wahlstrom, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said floods were not just caused by heavy rains but also by poorly planned construction.

The UNISDR estimates natural disasters of all types cause losses of $250 billion-$300 billion globally each year.

The report drew on a database of weather events that defines an event as a disaster if 10 or more people are killed, if 100 or more are affected, if a state of emergency is declared or if there is a call for international assistance.

The countries hit by the highest number of weather-related disasters over the past decade were the United States with 472, China with 441, India with 288, the Philippines with 274 and Indonesia with 163.


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