World, Environment

Water-related hazards dominated disasters over 50 years: World weather body

China, central Europe highlight weather, water-related hazards increasing in frequency due to climate change, says WMO

Peter Kenny   | 23.07.2021
Water-related hazards dominated disasters over 50 years: World weather body


Water-related hazards dominated the list of disasters for both the human and economic toll over the past 50 years, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Thursday, its analysts have found.

"Weather, climate and water-related hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas ahead of the release of an atlas on the effects of the perils.

"The human and economic toll was highlighted with tragic effect by the torrential rainfall and devastating flooding and loss of life in central Europe and China in the past week."

According to the WMO, the German national meteorological service DWD said that up to two months' worth of rain fell in two days, on July 14 and 15.

That was on soil already near saturation in the most affected regions of Germany and Belgium and the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Switzerland and Austria were also hit by severe flooding.

This week, some parts of China’s central Henan province received more accumulated rainfall between July 17-21 than the annual average.

The Chinese national meteorological observation station in Zhengzhou reached 720 millimeters (28 inches) – compared to its annual average of 641 millimeters (25 inches).

Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, received the equivalent of half its annual rainfall in six hours.

The six-hour rainfall was 382 millimeters (15 inches), and from 4-5 p.m. on July 20, the one-hour rainfall in Zhengzhou exceeded 200 millimeters (around 8 inches).

Droughts led top 10 disasters

Of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the largest human losses during the period have been droughts (650,000 deaths), storms (577,232 deaths), floods (58,700 deaths) and extreme temperatures (55,736 deaths).

That is among the findings in the forthcoming WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019).

Regarding economic losses, the top 10 events include storms ($521 billion) and floods ($115 billion), according to the atlas, which will be published in September.

Excerpts from the atlas also show that floods and storms inflicted the most extensive economic losses in the past 50 years in Europe, at $377.5 billion.

The 2002 flood in Germany caused $16.48 billion in losses and was the costliest event in Europe between 1970 and 2019.

However, heat waves had the highest human toll.

The data show that over the 50 years, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters (including technological hazards), 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all reported economic losses at the global level.

"Increasingly, heavy rainfall episodes also bear the footprint of climate change. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it holds more moisture, which means it will rain more during storms, increasing the risk of floods," said Taalas, explaining that no country – developed or developing – is immune.

"Climate change is here and now. It is imperative to invest more in climate change adaptation, and one way of doing this is to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems."

He said water is the primary vehicle through which we feel the impacts of climate change.

"To effectively address both water and climate challenges, we must bring climate change and water to the same table – into the same conversation: Tackling them as one," said the WMO.

For that reason, the WMO is spearheading a new Water and Climate Coalition, a community of multi-sectoral actors guided by high-level leadership and focused on integrated water and climate action, said Taalas.

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