A third of deaths due to extreme events occurred in Africa over 50 years: WMO

Africa accounted for only one per cent of global economic losses due to weather, climate and water extremes in 50 years

By Susan Chacko
Published: Thursday 02 September 2021

Every third death (35 per cent) from extreme weather, climate or water stress in half a century was in Africa, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. The continent accounts for only 17 per cent of global population.

Four droughts — 1973 and 1983 in Ethiopia, 1981 in Mozambique and 1983 in Sudan — were responsible for 89 per cent of the total deaths in Africa from weather, climate and water extremes in the last 50 years. 

Africa, however, accounted for only one per cent of global economic losses, according to the Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019).

The highest economic losses in Africa were attributed to storms (37 per cent) and floods (34 per cent), followed by droughts (26 per cent).

Tropical Cyclone Idai, that hit Mozambique in 2019 and the 1990 drought in South Africa were jointly the two costliest events (both estimated at $1.96 billion) in Africa over the past 50 years.

Around 51 per cent of disasters happened in low-income countries and 35 per cent in lower-middle income countries in the African continent, according to the World Bank country classification.

Almost 99 per cent of all reported deaths occurred in low-to-lower-middle-income countries in Africa.

Early warning systems

Globally, between 1970 and 2019, there were more than 11,000 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards, accounting for two million deaths and $3.64 trillion in losses.

Between 1970 and 2019, weather, climate and water-related disasters caused on average 115 deaths per day and $202 million in economic losses.

More than 91 per cent of all deaths occurred in developing countries.

Three of the costliest disasters occurred in 2017:

  • Hurricane Harvey ($96.9 billion)
  • Hurricane Maria ($69.4 billion)
  • Hurricane Irma ($58.2 billion)

The number of disasters had risen by a factor of five. But the number of deaths decreased. The 1970s and 1980s reported an average of 170 related deaths per day. In the 1990s, that average fell by one third to 90 related deaths per day, then continued to fall in the 2010s to 40 related deaths per day. This heppened due to early warning systems.

However, there were gaps in weather observations, especially in Africa and island states. Only half of the 193 WMO members have multi-hazard early warning systems.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework have called for countries to increase their resilience through the strengthening of risk reduction processes.

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