Political and business leaders worldwide are failing to stop the planet turning into “an uninhabitable hell” for millions of people, the United Nations warned on Monday.
Climate change is largely to blame for a near doubling of natural disasters in the past 20 years, a UN report said.
The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) said 7,348 major disaster events occurred between 2000 and 2019, claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people, and costing the global economy some $2.97 trillion.
The figure far outstrips the 4,212 major natural disasters recorded between 1980 and 1999, the UN office said in the new report, The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019.
The sharp increase was largely attributable to a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events like floods, drought and storms, the report said, adding that extreme heat is proving especially deadly.
“We are willfully destructive,” UNDRR chief Mami Mizutori told reporters in a virtual briefing. “That is the only conclusion one can come to when reviewing disaster events over the last 20 years.”
She accused governments of not doing enough to prevent climate hazards and called for better preparation for looming disasters.
In a joint foreword to the UN report, Mizutori and Debarati Guha-Sapir of Belgium’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters noted developing nations continue to have the odds “stacked against them, in particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.
“It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people,” it said.
Guha-Sapir warned if extreme weather events continue to grow at the same rate over the next 20 years, “the future of mankind looks very bleak indeed”.
To avoid that happening, the world must act urgently to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction, Mizutori said.
She urged governments to show leadership and deliver on promises made in 2015 under the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, the Sendai Framework to manage disaster risk, and the global development goals set to be achieved by 2030.
UN member states agreed to put in place national and local strategies to reduce disaster risks by 2020, but so far just over 90 have delivered those, she noted.
“It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk, and the worst consequences of global warming,” she said.
The report did not touch on biological hazards and disease-related disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than one million people and infected at least 37 million in the last nine months.
But Mizutori suggested coronavirus was “the latest proof that political and business leaders are yet to tune in to the world around them”.
The report said 6,681 climate-linked events were recorded since the turn of the century, up from 3,656 during the previous 20-year period.
While major floods more than doubled to 3,254, there had been 2,034 major storms, up from 1,457 in the prior period.
Mizutori said public health authorities and rescue workers were “fighting an uphill battle against an ever-rising tide of extreme weather events”.
While better preparedness and early warning systems had helped bring down the number of deaths in many natural disaster settings, the UN official warned “more people are being affected by the expanding climate emergency”.
Data showed that Asia suffered the highest number of disasters in the past 20 years with 3,068 such events, followed by the Americas with 1,756 and Africa with 1,192.
In terms of affected countries, China topped the list with 577 events followed by the United States with 467.
The deadliest single disaster in the past 20 years was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, with 226,400 deaths, followed by the Haiti earthquake in 2010, which killed some 222,000 people.