UN: Weather disasters soar in numbers, cost, but deaths fall

by Jeremy

A new report from the United Nations weather agency finds the world is getting several times more weather disasters than in the 1970s

GENEVA — Weather disasters are striking the world four to five times more often and causing seven times more damage than in the 1970s, the United Nations weather agency reports.

UN: Weather disasters soar in numbers, cost, but deaths fall

But these disasters are killing far fewer people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they killed about 170 people a day worldwide. In the 2010s, which dropped to about 40 per day, the World Meteorological Organization said on a Wednesday that it looked at more than 11,000 weather disasters in the past half-century.

The report comes during a disaster-filled summer globally, with the United States simultaneously struck by powerful Hurricane Ida and an onslaught of drought-worsened wildfires.

In the 1970s, the world averaged about 711 weather disasters a year. Still, from 2000 to 2009, that was up to 3,536 a year or nearly ten a day, according to the report, which used data from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium. The report said the average number of yearly disasters dropped a bit in the 2010s to 3,165.

Most death and damage during 50 years of weather disasters came from storms, flooding, and drought.

More than 90% of the more than 2 million deaths are in what the U.N. considers developing nations, while nearly 60% of the economic damage occurred in more affluent countries.

In the 1970s, weather disasters cost about $175 million a year globally, when adjusted to 2019 dollars, the U.N. found. That increased to $1.38 billion a year in the 2010s.

What’s driving the destruction is that more people are moving into dangerous areas as climate change makes weather disasters stronger and more frequent, U.N. disaster and weather officials said. Meanwhile, they said, better weather warnings and preparedness are lessening the death toll.

“The good news is we’re learning how to live with risk and protect ourselves,” said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. She wasn’t part of the report. “On the other hand, we’re still making stupid decisions about where we’re putting our infrastructure. … But it’s OK. We’re not losing lives; we’re just losing stuff.”

“The number of weather, climate, and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The five most expensive weather disasters since 1970 were all storms in the United States, topped by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The five deadliest weather disasters were in Africa and Asia — completed by the Ethiopian drought and famine in the mid-1980s and Cyclone Bhola in Bangladesh in 1970.

Borenstein reported from Kensington, Maryland.

Read more of AP’s.. climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate.

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears and Jamey Keaten at @jameykeaten.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The A.P. is solely responsible for all content.

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