Extreme weather caused 2M deaths, $4.3-trillion losses in 50 years: UN body

According to the WMO’s report, extreme temperatures were the top cause of reported deaths, while floods were the main cause of economic losses

Extreme weather deaths
Citing the example of Cyclone Mocha that ravaged parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh this month, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said though the most vulnerable communities still bear the brunt of such hazards, early warnings are saving lives. The picture shows relief materials sent by India for Cyclone Mocha victims as part of Operation Karuna being offloaded at Yangon | Pic: Twitter: Indian Aerospace Defence News

More than 2 million people worldwide have lost their lives to some 12,000 extreme weather, climate- and water-related events over much of the past half-century, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday (May 22).

The economic damage caused by these events were worth $4.3 trillion, the UN weather agency said as it opened its four-yearly congress among member countries. Most of the economic damage between 1970 and 2021 was caused to the US — worth $1.7 trillion — while nine in 10 deaths worldwide took place in developing countries, it added.

Early warning systems key

While lauding early warning systems for helping reduce deaths related to climate and other weather-related catastrophes, the WMO stressed that more needs to be done to improve alert systems for extreme weather events by 2027.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Cyclone Mocha that ravaged parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh this month exemplified how the most vulnerable communities bear the brunt of weather, climate, and water-related hazards.

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In the past, both countries have suffered death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people to similar catastrophes, he said. But thanks to early warnings and disaster management, these mortality rates are now history. “Early warnings save lives,” he said.

Worldwide figures

The findings were a part of an update to WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes, which had previously covered a nearly 50-year period through 2019.

Extreme temperatures were the top cause of reported deaths; floods were the main cause of economic losses.

Asia faced over 3,600 disasters, claiming 984,263 lives and $1.4 trillion in economic losses, mostly due to cyclones.

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Over 2,100 disasters in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean led to 77,454 deaths and $2 trillion in economic losses. South America had 943 disasters that resulted in 58,484 deaths and over $115 billion in economic losses.

In Africa, WMO counted more than 1,800 disasters and 733,585 deaths related to weather, climate, and water extremes, including flooding and storm surges. The costliest was Cyclone Idai in 2019, which ran to $2.1 billion in damages.

Europe saw nearly 1,800 disasters that led to 166,492 deaths and $562 billion in economic losses.

Nearly 1,500 disasters hit the southwest Pacific, causing 66,951 deaths and $185.8 billion in economic losses.

Grim warnings

The Geneva-based agency has repeatedly warned about the impact of man-made climate change, saying rising temperatures have increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, including floods, hurricanes, cyclones, and drought.

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Last week, WMO forecast a 66% chance that within the next five years, the Earth will face a year that averages 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than in the mid-19th century, reaching a key threshold targeted by the Paris climate accord of 2015.

(With agency inputs)