There has been a dramatic rise in extreme weather-related events in the past 20 years, a UN agency said, with reported disasters jumping from just over 4,000 in 1980-1999 to 7,348 in 2000-2019.

Asia was the worst hit with disasters and heat will be the biggest danger humanity faces in the upcoming decade, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said in a report issued the day before the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction — Oct. 13.

The report “confirms how extreme weather events have come to dominate the disaster landscape in the 21st century.”

The 7,348 disaster events from 2000 to 2019 claimed 1.23 million lives, affected 4.2 billion people — many on more than one occasion — and resulted in approximately $2.97 trillion of global economic losses.

In the preceding two decades, between 1980 and 1999, 4,212 disasters were linked to natural hazards worldwide, claiming approximately 1.19 million lives and affecting 3.25 billion people, resulting in about $1.63 trillion of economic losses.

Much of the difference is explained by a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events: from 3,656 in 1980-1999 to 6,681 climate-related disasters in 2000-2019.

“We are willfully destructive. That is the only conclusion one can come to when reviewing disaster events over the last twenty years,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction.

“COVID-19 is but the latest proof that political and business leaders are yet to tune in to the world around them.”

At a briefing from Geneva for journalists, Mizutori said the COVID-19 pandemic will be a one-off event for what is happening from the climate.

The doubling of extreme weather events over the last 20 years shows the need for a new approach to managing disaster risk if the world is to limit disaster losses, she added.

“We could isolate ourselves from COVID-19, one way or another, we can’t isolate ourselves from these extreme weather events from the extreme high temperature even in developed countries, let alone developing countries,” Mizutori noted.

Debarati Guha-Sapir, a public health researcher at the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at Belgium’s University of Louvain, said: “Heatwaves are going to be our biggest challenge in the next 10 years, especially in the poor countries.

“If this level of growth in extreme weather events continues over the next 20 years, the future of mankind looks very bleak indeed.”

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