Natural Disasters

Nearly 150,000 Indians have died in the past 51 years because of extreme weather: WMO

Extreme weather, climate and water-related events caused nearly 12, 000 disasters worldwide between 1970 and 2021

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 23 May 2023
A flooded Kolkata street after Cyclone Amphan. Photo: iStock

Some 138,377 Indians died between 1970 and 2021 in 573 climate-related disasters, the second-highest number in Asia after Bangladesh, a new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed on May 22, 2023.

Some 520,758 Bangladeshis died due to 281 events in these 51 years, a statement by the WMO said. Myanmar recorded the third-highest number of human casualties in Asia, mostly to the 2008 Cyclone Nargis which struck its Irrawaddy delta region and killed 138,366.

China had the fourth-highest number of casualties — 88,457 due to 740 events. Almost a quarter of deaths resulted from a flood in 1975.

The numbers were part of updated data in the WMO’s Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water-related hazards. The figures were released even as the World Meteorological Congress, the supreme body of the WMO, started its quadrennial session on May 22.

The event, scheduled till June 2, will see a high-level dialogue on the international campaign to ensure that everyone in the world is protected by early warning systems by the end of 2027.

‘Two million deaths’

The WMO also revealed that extreme weather, climate and water-related events caused 11,778 reported disasters between 1970 and 2021, with just over 2 million deaths and $4.3 trillion in economic losses.

Over 90 per cent of the death toll was recorded in developing countries.

“The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Asia reported the greatest number of disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes — 3,612. It recorded 984,263 deaths (47 per cent of all deaths worldwide), with tropical cyclones being the leading cause of reported deaths. These disasters cost the continent $ 1.4 trillion in economic losses.

North America, Central America and Caribbean reported the second-highest number of extreme weather events (2,107). These resulted in 77, 454 deaths and $2 trillion in economic losses.

Between 1970 and 2021, the region accounted for 46 per cent of reported economic losses worldwide. The United States alone incurred $1.7 trillion, accounting for 39 per cent of losses worldwide in the 51 years.

Most of the reported economic losses were attributed to storm-related disasters, and more specifically, to tropical cyclones.

Africa (1,839 disasters), Europe (1,784 disasters), South-West Pacific (1,493 disasters) and South America (943 disasters) made up the rest of the list.

These regions recorded:

  • 733, 585 deaths and $43 billion in economic losses (Africa)
  • 166, 492 deaths and $562.0 billion in economic losses (Europe)
  • 66, 951 deaths and $185.8 billion in economic losses (South-West Pacific)
  • 58, 484 deaths and $115.2 billion in economic losses (South America)

While droughts caused 95% of African deaths, extreme temperatures were the leading cause of  reported deaths in Europe. Tropical cyclones were the leading cause of death in the South-West Pacific.  Floods accounted for 61 per cent of the 943 disasters that South America experienced.

Taalas said mortality rates had fallen thanks to early warnings. “Extremely severe cyclonic storm Mocha caused widespread devastation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, impacting the poorest of the poor. In the past, both Myanmar and Bangladesh suffered death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. Thanks to early warnings and disaster management these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history. Early warnings save lives,” he said.  

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