UN warns: be prepared for many more disasters in the next 10 years

In the coming years, a disaster-weary globe will be further hit by more catastrophes facing an interconnected world, according to a United Nations report released on Monday.

If current trends continue, the world will go from about 400 disasters a year in 2015 to an onslaught of about 560 disasters a year by 2030, science report says United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction said. By comparison, between 1970 and 2000, there were between 90 and 100 medium-to-large-scale natural disasters in the world every year, the report says.

The report predicts that the number of extreme heat waves in 2030 will be three times more than in 2001, and there will be 30% more droughts. These are not just natural disasters exacerbated changing of the climateThis COVID-19, economic crises and food shortages. According to the authors of the report, climate change has a huge impact on the number of disasters.

People have not yet realized the cost of disasters today, said Mami Mizutori, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction: “If we do not get ahead of the curve, we will reach a point where we cannot cope with the consequences of natural disasters. she said. “We’re just in this vicious cycle.”

This means society needs to rethink how it finances, manages and talks about disaster risk and what it values ​​most, the report says. About 90% of disaster spending is currently for emergency relief, only 6% for recovery and 4% for prevention, Mizutori said in an interview on Monday.

According to Mizutori, not every hurricane or earthquake has to turn into a catastrophe. Much damage can be avoided through planning and prevention.

In 1990, natural disasters cost the world about $70 billion a year. According to the authors of the report, they are now worth more than $170 billion a year, and that’s after adjusting for inflation. It also doesn’t include indirect costs, which we rarely think about, Mizutori said.

Over the years, the number of deaths from natural disasters has steadily declined due to better warnings and prevention, Mizutori said. But over the past five years, deaths from natural disasters have been “far greater” than in the previous five years, said report co-author Roger Pulvarty, a climate scientist and sociologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s because both COVID-19 and climate change-related disasters have arrived where they didn’t exist before, such as tropical cyclones hitting Mozambique, Mizutori said. It’s also how natural disasters interact with each other to exacerbate damage, like wildfires plus heat waves or war in Ukraine plus food and fuel shortages, Pulwarty said.

Pulvarty said that if society changes the way it thinks about risk and prepares for natural disasters, then the recent increase in annual disaster deaths may be temporary, otherwise it is likely “the new abnormality.”

According to the co-author of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Markus Ehnenkel, natural disasters hit poor countries harder than rich ones, and the cost of recovery takes a large part of the economy from countries that cannot afford it.

“These are developments that could undo hard-earned development gains and send already vulnerable communities or entire regions into a downward spiral,” he said.

According to Pulwarty, the sheer onslaught of natural disasters simply adds up, like small illnesses attacking and weakening the body’s immune system.

The report calls for a rethinking of how we talk about risk. For example, instead of asking about the probability of a natural disaster this year being, say, 5%, officials should think about the probability over a 25-year period, which makes it highly likely. Talking about 100-year floods or the likelihood of something happening a couple of times in 100 years seems far away, Mizutori said.

“In a world of mistrust and misinformation, this is the key to moving forward,” said Susan Cutter, co-director of the University of South Carolina Institute for Vulnerability and Resilience, who was not involved in the report. “We can move forward to reduce the main risk factors: inequality, poverty and, most importantly, climate change.”

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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