Extreme weather events are part of a “new normal” trend
Flood, Valladolid, Spain. A man using a boat to cross
the flooded city. Climate change is responsible for the
increase in extreme weather events.
ANTONIO MACIAS MARTINEZ -UNEP / Still Pictures
Last year was a terrible year for natural disasters. Unfortunately – and all too tragically for millions of people – 2007 represented the “new normal”, a new paradigm of extreme weather events. This all too clear manifestation of climate change demands a rapid transformation in how we prepare for and respond to nature’s hazards.
Intensive storms sweeping across Asia and the Caribbean, devastating droughts in Africa, wildfires in the southwestern US, massive flooding throughout Asia and large swathes of Africa – 2007’s global list of catastrophes read like a tired Hollywood disaster script. But these calamities were anything but fiction for tens of millions of people who suffered grievously from these events.
Last year’s litany of extreme weather events could just be a harbinger of things to come. In 2007, the UN issued an unprecedented 15 funding appeals for sudden natural disasters, 5 more than the previous annual record. All but one of these disasters was the result of extreme weather. The recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cite research indicating that human influences on climate change have already increased the risk of certain extreme weather events and states that a 2°C rise in temperatures above 1990-2000 levels would increase the risk of many extreme events, including floods, droughts, heatwaves and fires. Heavy precipitation events are also envisioned for some regions – already, 2008 has seen widespread flooding in southern Africa.
The impact of natural disasters is not just the human and economic toll when they strike. Hundreds of millions more people could require humanitarian assistance in the coming years as climatic changes generate devastating consequences not only for global food and water supplies and public health, but also for migration flows and, not least, political stability as battles for resources intensify. The IPCC concurs that migration and movement of people is a particularly critical source of potential conflict. Migration, usually temporary and often from rural to urban areas, is a common response to calamities such as floods and famines. Climate change could further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition while agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries, is projected to be severely compromised.
While catastrophes cannot be avoided, there is an enormous amount we can do to reduce our risks and vulnerability by dramatically improving disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response efforts. Our actions – or chronic inaction – are decisive in determining how much damage results from nature’s capricious powers. How we build our homes and schools, design our bridges, construct our cities, and protect our coastlines – these are what determine the destructive consequences of any given event. We urgently need to improve how we prepare for and respond to disasters triggered by extreme weather events. The UN will have to find ways to support the most vulnerable communities at the national and local levels to help them adapt to extreme weather and other climate change impacts.
- In 2006, 426 disasters affected 143 million people and resulted in $35 billion in economic damage. The number of floods and related disasters was 43 per cent greater than the 2000-2004 average.
- In South Asia, successive waves of flooding last summer affected over 60 million people, devastating lives and livelihoods for years to come.
- Some 200 million people on the planet now live in coastal flood zones at risk from more intense storms and rising waters; in South and Southeast Asia alone, 60 million people are particularly at risk in the mega-delta regions.
- In just one generation, the number of disasters triggered by these natural hazards has increased threefold, and losses, both direct and indirect, have increased five-fold. Rapid urbanization and rising population density, particularly in coastal mega-cities, mean more people are at risk from major disasters than ever before.
- The health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; with increased deaths, diseases, and injury due to extreme weather events.
- In Africa by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.
- Adaptation to climate change is an essential investment in our common future – probably the best investment we can currently make.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):
Stephanie Bunker, Spokesperson, Tel: 917 367 5126
Send an email
USEFUL WEB LINKS:
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ReliefWeb
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR)
World Meteorological Organization
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