FEMA officials survey tree damage and assess the condition of the beaches and activity facilities in Guanica, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Dec. 20, 2017. (Andrea Booher/FEMA)

Report: Economic Losses from Climate-Related Disasters Rise 151 Percent in Past 20 Years

A new report from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction evaluating total disaster-related economic losses and fatalities between 1998 and 2017 finds that between 1998 and 2017, climate-related and geophysical disasters killed 1.3 million people and left a further 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance.

While the majority of fatalities were due to geophysical events, mostly earthquakes and tsunamis, 91 percent of all disasters were caused by floods, storms, droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events.

In 1998-2017, disaster-hit countries experienced direct economic losses valued at $2,908 billion, of which climate-related disasters caused $2,245 billion or 77 percent of the total. This is up from 68 percent ($895 billion) of losses ($1,313 billion) reported between 1978 and 1997. Overall, reported losses from extreme weather events rose by 151 percent between these two 20-year periods.

The report further discusses absolute losses relative to the burden on the poor. The findings reveal that inequality is even greater than available losses data suggest because of systematic under-reporting by low-income countries. While high-income countries reported losses from 53 percent of disasters between 1998 and 2017, low-income countries only reported them from 13 percent of disasters. No losses data are therefore available for nearly 87 percent of disasters in low-income countries.

For disasters since 2000, georeferencing has found that in low-income countries, an average of 130 people died per million living in disaster-affected areas, compared to just 18 in high-income countries. That means people exposed to natural hazards in the poorest nations were more than seven times more likely to die than equivalent populations in the richest nations.

Such data demonstrate that while absolute economic losses might be concentrated in high-income countries, the human cost of disasters falls overwhelmingly on low- and lower-middle income countries: vulnerability to risk and degrees of suffering are determined by levels of economic development, rather than simple exposure to natural hazards per se.

Read the full report

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