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More Than 600,000 People Died of Weather-Related Disasters in 20 Years
 

A new UN-backed report found that in the past 20 years, more than 600,000 people have died as a result of weather-related disasters, and 90 percent of major disasters have been caused by nearly 6,500 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events.

The five countries hit by the highest number of disasters are the United States, China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, said the report issued by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

The report found that since the first UN climate change conference (COP1), which was held in 1995, more than 606,000 people have died as a result of weather-related disasters, with an additional 4.1 billion people having been injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance. The report was released just weeks before the second UN climate conference (COP2) is to be convened in Paris.

During this period, 90 percent of major disasters have been caused by 6,457 recorded floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events, the report said.

"Weather and climate are major drivers of disaster risk and this report demonstrates that the world is paying a high price in lives lost," said Margareta Wahlstrom, head of UNISDR, in a press release. "Economic losses are a major development challenge for many least developed countries battling climate change and poverty."

The report and analysis, compiled by UNISDR and the Belgian-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), highlighted data gaps, noting that economic losses from weather-related disasters are much higher than the recorded figure of $1.891 trillion, which accounts for 71 percent of all losses attributed to natural hazards over the 20-year period.

Only 35 percent of records included information about economic losses. UNISDR estimated that the true figure on disaster losses -- including earthquakes and tsunamis -- is between $250 billion and $300 billion annually.

"In the long term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels," Wahlstrom said. "For now, there is a need to reduce existing levels of risk and avoid creating new risk by ensuring that public and private investments are risk-informed and do not increase the exposure of people and economic assets to natural hazards on flood plains, vulnerable low-lying coastlines or other locations unsuited for human settlement."

Wahlström recalled that the development year started last March with the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year package endorsed by the UN General Assembly, which sets out clear targets for a substantial reduction in disaster losses, including mortality, numbers of people affected, economic losses and damage to critical infrastructure including schools and hospitals.

Meanwhile, Debarati Guha-Sapir, the head of CRED, said climate change, climate variability and weather events are a threat to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals' overall target of eliminating poverty. The Sustainable Development Goals, approved by world leaders here in September, are a blueprint for the global development efforts for the next 15 years.

"We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle other risk drivers such as unplanned urban development, environmental degradation and gaps in early warnings," she said. "This all requires ensuring people are risk informed and strengthening institutions which manage disaster risk."

According to the report, Asia accounts for the "lion's share of disaster impacts," with 332,000 deaths and 3.7 billion people affected. The death toll in Asia included 138,000 deaths caused by Cyclone Nargis which struck Myanmar in 2008.

An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14 percent from 1995-2004 period or almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995.

CRED's Emergency Events Data Base, or EM-DAT, published data showing that 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey.

The analysis also highlighted that floods accounted for 47 percent of all weather-related disasters from 1995-2015, affecting 2.3 billion people and killing 157,000.

Storms were the deadliest type of weather-related disaster, accounting for 242,000 deaths, or 40 percent of the global weather-related deaths, with 89 percent of these deaths occurring in lower-income countries.

Overall, heatwaves accounted for 148,000 of the 164,000 lives lost due to extreme temperatures, with 92 percent of deaths occurring in high-income countries.

Drought reportedly affected Africa more than any other continent, with EM-DAT recording 136 events there between 1995 and 2015, including 77 droughts in East Africa alone. The report also recommended that there needs to be improved data collection on indirect deaths from drought.

(Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2015)

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