UN: Weather and climate dominate 2015 disaster trends

Hottest year on record linked to soaring levels of drought, heatwaves and rising seas, but better warning systems mean fewer deaths 

By Ed King

A rampant El Nino spurred by global warming was responsible for 92% of natural disasters in 2015, according to the UN’s risk agency.

Worst hit countries included China, the US, India, Philippines and Indonesia. The Asia-Pacific region was hit by the majority of last year’s 90 major storms, of which 48 were cyclone-strength.

The number of chronic droughts, affecting 50 million people, was double the 10-year average, said Robert Glasser, head of the Geneva-based UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“The main message from this trends analysis is that reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change is vital for countries seeking to reduce disaster risk now and in the future.”

UNISDR disasters

Still, better early warning systems have radically reduced casualties, said Debarati Guha-Sapir at the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

“At 22,773 deaths for 2015, overall disaster mortality was considerably down on the ten-year average of 76,424 deaths,” she said.

“It does seem that early warnings are having an impact in the case of storms. Further investment in this area is warranted by these numbers.”

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