Facts About Weather
World sets weather record: $138 billion
Annual cost of disasters higher than entire '80s
Violent weather has cost the world a record $138 billion this year, more money than was lost from weather-related disasters in all of the 1980s, and researchers in a study released yesterday blame human meddling for much of it.
Preliminary estimates by the Worldwatch Institute and Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer, put total losses from storms, floods, droughts and fires for the first 11 months of this year 48 per cent higher than the previous one-year record of more than $93 billion in 1996.
This year's damage was also far ahead of the $85 billion in losses for the entire decade of the 1980s. Even when adjusted for inflation, the 1980s losses, at $128 billion, still fall short of the first 11 months of this year.
In addition to the material losses, the disasters have killed an estimated 32,000 people and displaced 300 million - more than the combined populations of Canada and the United States - the report said.
The study is based on estimates from Worldwatch, an environmental research group, and Munich Re, the German-based reinsurer, which writes policies that protect insurance companies from the risk of massive claims that might put them out of business.
The report says a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused this year's most severe disasters, among them Hurricane Mitch in Central America, the flooding of China's Yangtze River and Bangladesh's most extensive flood of the century.
``More and more, there's a human fingerprint in natural disasters,in that we're making them more frequent and more intense and we're also . . . making them more destructive,'' said Seth Dunn, research associate and climate change expert at the institute.
Dunn said that when hillsides are left bare, rainfall will rush across the land or into rivers without being slowed by trees and allowed to be absorbed by the soil, or to evaporate back into the atmosphere. This leads to floods and landslides that are strong enough to wipe out roads, farms and fisheries far downstream.
``In a sense, we're turning up the faucets . . . and throwing away the sponges, like the forests and the wetlands,'' said Dunn.
Another element that has contributed to this year's losses is land speculation, which creates artificial land shortages and compels many people to settle on vulnerable flood plains and hillsides.
The most severe 1998 disasters listed in the report include Hurricane Mitch, the deadliest Atlantic storm in 200 years, which is believed to have caused more than 10,000 deaths in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and caused damage estimated at $6 billion in Honduras and $1.5 billion in Nicaragua.
The study said Mitch hit an ecologically vulnerable region. Central American nations have experienced some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing some 2 per cent to 4 per cent of their remaining forest cover each year.
The costliest disaster of 1998, according to the report, was the flooding of the Yangtze River in the summer. It killed more than 3,000 people, dislocated about 230 million people and incurred more than $45 billion in losses.
The study said that while heavy summer rains are common in southern and central China, the Yangtze Basin in recent decades has lost 85 per cent of its forest cover to logging and agriculture, wetlands have been drained, and the river heavily dammed.
Bangladesh suffered its most extensive flood of the century in the summer. Two-thirds of the low-lying country located at the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers was flooded for months, 30 million people were left temporarily homeless, and more than 15,000 kilometres of roads were heavily damaged. Damage estimates exceed $5 billion.
Logging upriver in the Himalayas of north India and Nepal exacerbated the disaster, as did the fact that the region's rivers and flood plains have been filled with silt and constricted by development, the report said.
``Climate change and rising sea levels are projected to make Bangladesh even more vulnerable to flooding in the future,'' said the study.
The study said governments are beginning to recognize the role of human activities in worsening natural disasters. It noted that China has banned logging in the upper Yangtze watershed, prohibited additional land reclamation projects in the river's flood plain and earmarked $3 billion to reforest the watershed.
``Unless ravaged nations rebuild along a path of sustainable development that emphasizes restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems, they risk even greater exposure to the devastation of unnatural disasters in the future,'' said the report.
Reported by Grassroots News Network
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