WMO urges expansion of extreme weather early warning systems

Between 1970 and 2021, some 11,778 reported disasters have occurred due to extreme weather and climate events that caused two million deaths and $4.3tn in economic losses, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has said.

The WMO has issued the new findings amid efforts to scale up action to ensure that early warning services reach everyone on Earth by the end of 2027.

While economic losses have soared, the WMO said that improved early warnings and coordinated disaster management has slashed the human casualty toll over the past half a century. Over 90 per cent of reported deaths worldwide occurred in developing countries.

The USA alone incurred $1.7tn, accounting for 39 per cent of economic losses worldwide in the 51 years. Poorer countries suffered a disproportionately high cost in relation to the size of their economies.

“The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards,” said WMO secretary-general professor Petteri Taalas.

“Extremely severe cyclonic storm Mocha exemplifies this. It caused widespread devastation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, impacting the poorest of the poor. In the past, both Myanmar and Bangladesh suffered death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. Thanks to early warnings and disaster management, these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history. Early warnings save lives.”

The WMO recorded 22,608 deaths for 2020 and 2021 from extreme climate events indicating a further decrease in mortality relative to the annual average of the previous decade. But economic losses were found to have increased – especially within the storm category.

Over 60 per cent of economic losses due to weather, climate and water-related disasters were reported for developed economies. These were equivalent to less than 0.1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in respective economies in more than four-fifths of these disasters. No disasters were reported with economic losses greater than 3.5 per cent of the respective GDPs.

In the least developed countries, 7 per cent of disasters for which economic losses were reported had an impact equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the respective GDPs, with several disasters causing economic losses up to nearly 30 per cent.

In Africa, 1,839 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water extremes were reported between 1970 and 2021, causing 733,585 deaths and $43bn in economic losses. Droughts accounted for 95 per cent of reported deaths. Meanwhile, Asia saw 3,612 disasters with 984,263 deaths and $1.4tn in economic losses.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that early warning systems are a proven, effective climate-adaptation measure that save lives and provide at least a tenfold return on investment.

However, only half of countries have early warning systems in place with coverage especially low in what are termed small island developing states (SIDS), least developed countries (LDCs) and in Africa.

A first set of 30 countries have been identified for the roll-out of the initiative in 2023.

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