Weary of the world facing so many disasters? United Nations says it will only get worse

A U.N. report says disasters, from climate change to COVID-19, are on the rise and are going to get worse.

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A car lies flipped over after a tornado March 22 in Arabi, Louisiana, that struck a part of the city that had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina 17 years earlier.

A car lies flipped over after a tornado March 22 in Arabi, Louisiana, that struck a part of the city that had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina 17 years earlier.

Gerald Herbert / AP

A disaster-weary globe will be hit harder in the coming years by even more catastrophes colliding in an interconnected world, according to a new United Nations report.

If trends continue, the world will go from around 400 disasters a year in 2015 to an onslaught of about 560 catastrophes a year by 2030, the scientific report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said.

By comparison, from 1970 to 2000, the world suffered 90 to 100 medium- to large-scale disasters a year, the report said.

The number of extreme heat waves in 2030 will be three times what it was in 2001, and there will be 30% more droughts, the report predicted.

And it isn’t just natural disasters amplified by climate change. It’s also COVID-19, economic meltdowns and food shortages. Climate change has a huge footprint in the number of disasters, the authors of the report said.

People haven’t grasped how much disasters already cost today, said Mami Mizutori, chief of the U.N. Office of Disaster Risk Reduction,

“If we don’t get ahead of the curve, it will reach a point where we cannot manage the consequences of disaster,” Mizutori said. “We’re just in this vicious cycle.”

That means society needs to rethink how it finances, handles and talks about the risk of disasters and what it values the most, the report said. About 90% of government spending on disasters currently is emergency relief, with 6% on reconstruction and 4% on prevention, Mizutori said.

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.

For years, disaster deaths were steadily decreasing because of better warnings and prevention, Mizutori said. In the past five years, though, disaster deaths are “way more” than the previous five years, said report co-author Roger Pulwarty, a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate and social scientist.

That’s because COVID-19 and climate change disasters have come to places that, in the past, didn’t get them, like tropical cyclones hitting Mozambique, Mizutori said.

It’s also the way disasters interact with each other, compounding damage, like wildfires plus heatwaves or a war in Ukraine plus food and fuel shortages, according to Pulwarty.

Pulwarty said that, if society changes the way it thinks about risk and prepares for disasters, then the recent increase in yearly disaster deaths could be temporary. Otherwise, it’s probably “the new abnormal.”

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