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Weather extremes killed 55m in 2009

The year 2009, the warmest since 1850, claimed 55 million lives across the globe because of climate-change induced extreme weather events. Chetan Chauhan and Samar Halarnkar report.Rising incidence of disasters across the globe

world Updated: Dec 15, 2009 00:57 IST

The year 2009, the warmest since 1850, claimed 55 million lives across the globe because of climate-change induced extreme weather events.

The disasters led to economic losses worth US $ 19 billion — more than what the rich countries have offered for climate mitigation in the next three years, said a study released on Monday.

The rich countries — United States and Europe — have committed US $ 13.5 billion per year for adaptation and climate mitigation till 2013. This is much less than the US $ 100 billion, which the developed world, especially Least Developed Countries (LDC), have asked for. Rising incidence of disasters across the globe

The study carried out by the World Meteorological Association (WMO), United Nations Development Programme and World Health Organisation corroborated the view of the LDCs that they are the most vulnerable to climate change. It said 39 per cent of the climate disaster deaths took place in Asia and 17 per cent in Africa, the two poorest and most malnourished regions of the world.

Europe accounted for just 16 per cent of the casualties and north-America (US and Canada) for 18.

“The whole of south Asia is on the vulnerability line,” said agricultural scientist and Rajya Sabha member M.S. Swaminathan.

He is in Copenhagen as part of the official Indian delegation to provide scientific outlook on the impact of climate change on agriculture, a source of livelihood for over 64 percent of the country’s population. “The biggest threat is to food security,” he said.

The study predicted that victims of extreme weather events would increase in the developing countries because of their incapability to cope with them.

“Sea level rise is the biggest cause of deaths,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarrand. “The frequency of people dying of storms will increase from once in 400 years to once in 15 to 100 years.”

The study said 37 per cent of the 245 weather-related disasters in 2009 were because of the change in long-term weather patterns.

“Climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events,” said Debarata Guha-Sapir, Director at Louvain School of Public Health, a WHO research centre.

“We have data on disasters since 1975 and the trend is of increase in climate related disasters,” he said.

In Africa, drought accounted for just 20 per cent of total disasters but represented 80 per cent of total people affected between 1970 and 2008, the study said.

Swaminathan said a one-degree Celsius rise in temperature for India would mean seven million tonnes of less wheat production, leading to a financial loss of 1.5 billion US dollars. India needs to protect its agriculture from extreme weather events like droughts, whose frequency is expected to increase, even without foreign aid.

The celebrated scientist said the government should set up climate research and management centres in the 127-agriculture research institutes around the country.

“The time has come to act.”

Rising incidence of disasters across the globe