Over two million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses; that’s the impact of a half-century of extreme weather events turbo-charged by man-made global warming, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday.
Developing countries were hit hardest, seeing nine in 10 deaths and 60 per cent of economic losses from climate shocks and extreme weather.
WMO said that Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States suffered a “disproportionately” high cost in relation to the size of their economies.
“The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
In Least Developed Countries, WMO reported that several disasters over the past half-century had caused economic losses of up to 30 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
In Small Island Developing States, one in five disasters had an impact “equivalent to more than five per cent” of GDP, with some disasters wiping out countries’ entire GDP.
Asia With Highest Death Tolls
Asia saw the highest death toll due to extreme weather, climate and water-related events over the past 50 years, with close to one million deaths – more than half in Bangladesh alone.
In Africa, WMO said that droughts accounted for 95 per cent of the reported 733,585 climate disaster deaths.
Early Warnings Save Lives
WMO stressed however that improved early warnings and coordinated disaster management have helped mitigate the deadly impact of disasters. “Early warnings save lives,” Mr. Taalas insisted.
The UN agency also noted that recorded deaths for 2020 and 2021 were lower than the previous decade’s average.
Pointing to the example of last week’s severe cyclonic storm Mocha, which caused devastation in Myanmar’s and Bangladesh’s coastal areas and hit “the poorest of the poor”, Mr. Taalas recalled that similar weather disasters in the past caused “death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands” in both countries.
“Thanks to early warnings and disaster management these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history,” the WMO chief said.
The agency had previously shown that just 24 hours’ notice prior to an impending weather hazard can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent, calling early warnings the “low-hanging fruit” of climate change adaptation because of their tenfold return on investment.
WMO issued its new findings on the human and economic cost of weather-induced disasters for its quadrennial World Meteorological Congress, which opened on Monday in Geneva with a focus on implementing the UN’s Early Warnings for All initiative.
Leave No One Behind
The initiative aims to ensure that early warning services reach everyone on Earth by the end of 2027. It was launched by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the COP27 climate change conference in Sharm al-Sheikh in November last year.
Only Half Of The World
Currently, only half of the world is covered by early warning systems, with Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries left far behind.
Earlier this year, the UN chief brought together agency heads and partners to fast-track the Early Warnings for All initiative into action.
A first set of 30 particularly at-risk countries – nearly half of them in Africa – have been identified for the roll-out of the initiative in 2023.
The USA alone incurred US$1.7 trillion, accounting for 39% of economic losses worldwide in the 51 years. But Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States suffered a disproportionately high cost in relation to the size of their economies.
WMO issued the new findings for the quadrennial World Meteorological Congress, which has opened on 22 May with a high-level dialogue on accelerating and scaling up action to ensure that early warning services reach everyone on Earth by the end of 2027.
The United Nations Early Warnings for All initiative is one of the top strategic priorities due to be endorsed by the World Meteorological Congress, WMO’s top decision-making body.
WMO compiled the figures as an update to its Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes, which initially covered the 50-year period 1970-2019, based on Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters’ (CRED) Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT.
Recorded deaths for 2020 and 2021 (22 608 deaths in total) indicate a further decrease in mortality relative to the annual average of the previous decade. Economic losses increased – most of them attributed to storm category.
Over sixty percent of economic losses due to weather-, climate- and water-related disasters were reported for developed economies. However, the economic losses were equivalent to less than 0.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in respective economies in more than four fifths of these disasters. No disasters were reported with economic losses greater than 3.5% of the respective GDPs.
In Least Developed Countries, 7% of disasters for which economic losses were reported had an impact equivalent to more than 5% of the respective GDPs, with several disasters causing economic losses up to nearly 30%.
In Small Island Developing States, 20% of disasters with reported economic losses led to an impact equivalent to more than 5% of the respective GDPs, with some disasters causing economic losses above 100%.
Africa: In Africa, 1 839 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes were reported between 1970 and 2021. They caused 733 585 deaths and US$ 43 billion in economic losses. Droughts accounted for 95% of reported deaths.
Tropical cyclone Idai in March 2019 was the costliest event that occurred in Africa (US$2.1 billion)
Asia: There were 3 612 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes were reported, with 984 263 deaths and US$ 1.4 trillion in economic losses
Between 1970 and 2021, Asia accounted for 47% of all reported deaths worldwide, with tropical cyclones being the leading cause of reported deaths. Tropical cyclone Nargis in 2008 led to 138 366 deaths. Bangladesh has highest death toll in Asia with 520 758 deaths due to 281 events.
South America: There were 943 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes reported in South America, with floods accounting for 61% of these. They resulted in 58 484 deaths and US$ 115.2 billion in economic losses.
North America, Central America and Caribbean: A reported 2 107 weather-, climate- and water-related resulted in 77 454 deaths and US$ 2.0 trillion in economic losses.
Between 1970 and 2021, the region accounted for 46% of reported economic losses worldwide. The USA alone incurred US$1.7 trillion, accounting for 39% of losses worldwide in the 51 years. Most of the reported economic losses were attributed to storm-related disasters, and more specifically, to tropical cyclones.
South-West Pacific: There were 1 493 disasters due to weather, climate and water extremes were reported in South-West Pacific. They resulted in 66 951 deaths and US$ 185.8 billion in economic losses. Tropical cyclones were the leading cause of death.
Europe: There were 1 784 disasters causing 166 492 deaths and US$ 562.0 billion in economic losses.
Between 1970 and 2021, Europe accounted for 8% of reported deaths worldwide.
Extreme temperatures were the leading cause of reported deaths and floods were the leading cause of economic losses.