Weather-related disasters on the rise, says UN report

Weather-related disasters happened almost daily over the past decade on a rising trend, according to a new UN report.

Anupam Nath/AP/File
A man wades through the flood water to collect drinking water as a State Disaster Response Force person rows a rescue boat in a flooded area during heavy monsoon rains in Gauhati, Assam state, India, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014.

Weather-related events made up 90 percent of natural disasters in the last 20 years, and it’s only going to get worse, according to a United Nations report published Monday.

Floods, heatwaves, storms and other weather events have devastated communities globally, taking 606,000 lives and leaving 4.1 billion people homeless, injured, or in need of aid from 1995 to 2015.

In the past decade, from 2005 to 2014, there were an average of 335 weather-related disasters each year. That number is up 14 percent from the previous decade and nearly double the average weather disasters recorded each year from 1985 to 1994.

"While scientists cannot calculate what percentage of this rise is due to climate change, predictions of more extreme weather in future almost certainly mean that we will witness a continued upward trend in weather-related disasters in the decades ahead," the report said.

Although the report does not specifically focus on climate change, the UN does say that atmospheric levels of the global warming-causing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide has risen to break records every year over the past three decades. 

A natural event had to meet at least one of four criteria in order to be considered a natural disaster in the UN report. Those criteria were: at least 10 people killed, 100 or more people affected, a state of emergency had to have been declared, or a call for international help.

Flooding made up an overwhelming 47 percent of these weather-related disasters. Those floods left 157,000 dead and affected 2.9 billion people in the past 20 years worldwide, but 95 percent of those affected were in Asia. 

The report explains that Asia was the hardest hit likely because of the vast, diverse land that makes up the region. 

"Floods are definitely increasing," Debarati Guha-Sapir, professor at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at UCL University in Louvain, Belgium, who co-authored the report, said to Reuters. "Whether it's increasing due to global warming, I think it's safe to say the jury's out on that. But rather than focus on the ifs, whys and wherefores, I think we should focus on how to manage floods."

This report is released a week before climate talks in Paris will bring world leaders together to work to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.

In the United States, many communities have already started to take steps to manage rising seas. For an in depth look at how local communities are rising to the challenge, see Doug Struck's Monitor cover story "Climate change crusade goes local."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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