Picture this. Between 1970-2019, on average, there was a weather disaster every day around the world, that killed 115 people and caused losses worth $202 million (around ₹14 billion now). This startling statistic comes from a new report released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), released on 31 August.
The report, titled WMO Atlas Of Mortality And Economic Losses From Weather, Climate And Water Extremes (1970-2019), is very clear about what caused this: climate change. The report finds that the number of disasters increased five times over the past 50 years. The silver lining to this dark cloud is that the same period saw rapid advances in early warning systems and better evacuation systems. As a result, there has been a decrease in the number of deaths in recent years.
India is an excellent case in point. According to the report, since 1970, 551 disasters claimed the lives of 134,037 across the country and resulted in losses worth $16.9 billion. However, better warning systems mean that the worst of the mortalities took place in the earlier decades. While weather disasters killed an average of nearly 170 people everyday in the 1970s and 1980s, this figure dropped to about 40 in the 2010s.
However, the report also shows that the number of such disasters is increasing rapidly due to climate change. Between 1970-79, there were 711 reported disasters. This jumped to 3,165 between 2010-19. The economic losses suffered around the world over the past decade have also been among the highest, seven times more than in the 1970s. The report identifies tropical cyclones and droughts as the disasters that claimed the most lives over the past 50 years. Both are problems that India is grappling with annually.
Although the report recognises the role played by better advance warning systems in saving lives in recent years, it says that much more needs to be done. It especially calls on governments to safeguard climate refugees. One of the biggest reasons for the rise in disasters is that while the frequency and intensity of weather events is rising, an even greater number of people are now living in increasingly hazard-prone zones, like coastal areas. “More international cooperation is needed to tackle the chronic problem of huge numbers of people being displaced each year by floods, storms and drought,” said Mami Mizutori, head of the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).