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ClimateGlobal issues

Humanity on 'spiral of self-destruction', UN warns

April 26, 2022

Floods, droughts and severe storms are becoming more frequent, the UN warned in a new report. The effects of climate change will likely worsen things, with experts estimating an average of 1.5 disasters per day by 2030.

 A supercell thunderstorm produces two tornadoes at once in a farm field south of Dodge City, Kansas
Developing countries will bear the greater costs of more disasters, according to the UNImage: ChrisxKridler/Image Source/imago images

The world is seeing an unprecedented rise in disaster numbers over shorter time spans, the UN said in a new report, adding that human activity is making matters worse.

Published Tuesday by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the report found that climate change impacts and poor risk management converged to drive up recorded yearly disasters to around 350 to 500 in the last two decades, five times higher than numbers from fifty years ago.

Those events — ranging from fires and floods to pandemics and chemical accidents — could increase to 560 per year by 2030 or about 1.5 per day, the report said, potentially putting millions of lives at risk.

Climate change, which causes more extreme weather events, is a major cause of the increase, the UN said.

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Governments have also not done enough to improve risk management of disasters, leaving humanity largely unprepared for what's to come, according to the report.

"The world needs to do more to incorporate disaster risk in how we live, build and invest," said Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, adding that current pathways are "setting humanity on a spiral of self-destruction."

Who will be most affected?

Disasters cost the world an average of about $170 billion (€159 billion) each year over the past decade, the UN report found.

Low and middle income countries are bearing the greater financial burden of those costs however, and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades, the UN report noted.

Firemen and local volunteers fight to extinguish a wildfire in Akcakoca, in the holiday region of Mugla, Turkey
The UN says governments are not doing enough to improve disaster risk managementImage: SERDAR GURBUZ/AFP

Developing countries lose about 1% of their GDP to disasters every year compared to richer countries which lose only about 0.1% to 0.2% of GDP.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have suffered the worst damage, losing 1.3% of GDP to annual disasters. African countries, the second most-affected, lose 0.6% of GDP.

The report is bad news for developing countries, which are already set to bear the worst impacts of a warming world, due to high risk of natural catastrophes and a disproportionate capacity to mitigate or adapt to climate impacts.

Adding to that, the UN report noted that poorer countries have less insurance coverage, making them even more vulnerable. Only about 40% of disaster-related losses since 1989 were insured in these regions.

"The financial system really needs to get ahead of this curve," Jenty Kirsch-Wood, coordinating lead author of the report told Reuters news agency. "Otherwise there's a lot of built-up risk that isn't being priced into how we make decisions."

sl/rs (Reuters, AFP)

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