UN warns: prepare for many more disasters in the next 10 years

A disaster-weary world will be hit harder in the years to come by even more disasters colliding in an interconnected world, according to a United Nations report released on Monday.

If current trends continue, the world will go from around 400 disasters per year in 2015 to around 560 disasters per year by 2030, according to the scientific report of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Compared to 1970 to 2000, the world suffered only 90 to 100 medium-to-large disasters per year, according to the report.

The number of extreme heat waves in 2030 will be three times higher than in 2001 and there will be 30% more droughts, the report predicts. It’s not just natural disasters amplified by climate change, it’s COVID-19, economic crises and food shortages. Climate change has a huge footprint in the number of disasters, the report’s authors said.

People haven’t realized how much disasters cost already today, said Mami Mizutori, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. she said. “We’re just in this vicious cycle.”

This means society needs to rethink how it funds, manages and talks about disaster risk and what it values ​​most, the report says. About 90% of disaster spending is currently on emergency relief, with just 6% on reconstruction and 4% on prevention, Mizutori said in an interview on Monday.

Not every hurricane or earthquake has to turn into a disaster, Mizutori said. Much damage is avoided through planning and prevention.

In 1990, disasters cost the world about $70 billion a year. Now they cost more than $170 billion a year, and that’s after adjusting for inflation, according to the report’s authors. It also doesn’t include indirect costs that we rarely think about, Mizutori said.

For years, disaster deaths have steadily declined thanks to better warnings and better prevention, Mizutori said. But in the past five years, disaster deaths are “significantly higher” than the previous five years, said report co-author Roger Pulwarty, a climate and social scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric. United States administration.

That’s because COVID-19 and climate change disasters have come to places they weren’t used to, like the tropical cyclones hitting Mozambique, Mizutori said. It’s also how disasters interact with each other, compounding the damage, such as wildfires plus heat waves or a war in Ukraine plus food and fuel shortages, Pulwarty said.

Pulwarty said if society changes the way it thinks about risk and prepares for disasters, then the recent increase in the annual number of disaster deaths may be temporary, otherwise it is likely “the new abnormal”.

Disasters hit poorer countries harder than richer ones, with recovery costs taking a greater share of the economy in countries that cannot afford them, said co-author Markus Enenkel of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

“These are the events that can undo hard-won development gains, sending already vulnerable communities or entire regions into a downward spiral,” he said.

The outright onslaught of disasters adds up, like small diseases attacking and weakening the body’s immune system, Pulwarty said.

The report calls for an overhaul of the way we talk about risk. For example, instead of asking about the odds of a disaster occurring this year, say 5%, managers should be thinking about the odds over a 25-year period, which makes it fairly likely. Talking about century-old floods or the chance of something happening multiple times in 100 years sounds like a long way off, Mizutori said.

“In a world of mistrust and misinformation, this is the key to moving forward,” said Susan Cutter, co-director of the University of South Carolina’s Risk Vulnerability and Resilience Institute, which was not part of the report. “We can move forward to reduce the underlying risk factors: inequality, poverty and, above all, climate change.”

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