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UN: Climate emergency causes number of natural disasters to double in last 20 years

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The huge rise in natural disasters is being driven by climate change, the UN says
The huge rise in natural disasters is being driven by climate change, the UN says   -   Copyright  Martin BERNETTI / AFP
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Twice as many natural disasters have been reported in the past 20 years compared to the preceding 20, with climate change the main cause of this rise, according to a UN report.

The organisation warned if the world doesn’t get to grips with the climate emergency, the situation will continue to worsen.

From 2000-2019, 7,348 natural disasters were recorded worldwide, which was almost twice as many as between 1980 and 1999, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) said.

The events came at a cost of nearly $3 trillion (€2.54 trillion) and killed more than 1.2 million people.

"COVID-19 has really raised the awareness of governments and the general public about the risks around us. They can see that if COVID-19 is so terrible, the climate emergency can be even worse," said UNDRR Secretary-General Mami Mizutori at a press conference.

"Without a green recovery, we will only increase the climate emergency," she insisted.

The report, which does not focus on epidemiological risks such as coronavirus, shows that the increase in natural disasters is mainly linked to the rise in climatic disasters, which have risen from 3,656 (1980-1999) to 6,681 (2000-2019).

"We are deliberately destructive. This is the only conclusion that can be reached when looking at the disasters that have occurred over the past 20 years," Mizutori said.

The costs of natural disasters are estimated to be at least close to $3 trillion (€2.54 trillion) since 2000, but the actual amount is higher because many countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, do not provide information on the economic impact.

Floods - which have doubled - and storms, have been the most frequent disasters over the past two decades.

For the coming decade, the UN estimates that the worst problem will be heatwaves.

More people affected

While the number of deaths from these events hasn’t greatly increased in the last two decades (1.19 million between 1980-1999 compared to 1.23 million between 2000-2019) the number of people affected has shot up, from 3.25 billion to 4 billion.

"More lives are being saved but more people are affected by the growing climate emergency. Disaster risk is becoming systemic," Ms Mizutori stressed, calling on the world to follow the recommendations of scientists and invest in climate change prevention and adaptation programmes.

The most affected region, Asia, has eight of the top ten countries with the most disasters. It is followed by the Americas and Africa.

China and the United States reported the highest number of disasters, followed by India, the Philippines, and Indonesia. These countries have relatively high population densities in at-risk areas, the report said.

The years 2004, 2008 and 2010 were the most devastating, with more than 200,000 deaths in each of these years.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the deadliest event, killing more than 220,000 people.