“The steep rise in extreme weather events in recent decades is mainly because of climate change,” said M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences and co-author.(ANI file photo. Representative image)
“The steep rise in extreme weather events in recent decades is mainly because of climate change,” said M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences and co-author.(ANI file photo. Representative image)

Study: Sharp rise in extreme weather events in last 50 yrs

The paper, published in ScienceDirect journal on February 26, compared extreme weather events across two 20-year periods—1980-1999 and 2000-2019. The comparison highlighted an increase of 138% in heatwaves, 193% in lightning strikes, 25% in cold waves, 28% in floods, and a decrease of 19% in tropical cyclones.
By Jayashree Nandi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 04:14 AM IST

A new paper by scientists from ministry of earth sciences has revealed a sharp rise in extreme weather events in India in the past 50 years (1970 to 2019), although the overall mortality due to extreme weather events has been declining, pointing to both the challenge posed by the climate crisis, and the fact that governments have become better at saving lives, although the events still cause significant economic damage.

The paper, published in ScienceDirect journal on February 26, compared extreme weather events across two 20-year periods—1980-1999 and 2000-2019. The comparison highlighted an increase of 138% in heatwaves, 193% in lightning strikes, 25% in cold waves, 28% in floods, and a decrease of 19% in tropical cyclones.

“The steep rise in extreme weather events in recent decades is mainly because of climate change,” said M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences and co-author.

In general, the climate crisis is expected to increase the number and intensity of extreme (or adverse) weather events.

According to the paper, extreme weather events resulted in a mortality rate of 3.86 between 1980 and 1999 (mortalities per year per million population), which reduced to 2.14 between 2000 and 2019. This is due to better disaster management and more accurate weather forecasts, the paper added. But within this, mortality from heat waves and lightning strikes are on the rise.

The fatalities from tropical cyclones reduced by 94% over the past 20 years; that from heatwaves and lightning increased by 62.2% and 52.8% respectively according to the paper.

“The mortality rate (per year per million population) has a decreasing trend for cold waves, floods, and tropical cyclones but it is non-significant. However, there is a significant increasing trend for lighting. Overall, this analysis indicates, even though the number of events is increasing significantly, mortality is either decreasing or not significantly increasing, except for lightning, where the increase in mortality rate is significant,” the paper said.

“The reason mortality associated with lightning and heat waves is going up mainly because even though there is improved forecast the actions taken are not appropriate. People lack awareness of the impacts of these events,” Rajeevan added. To be sure, the paper does not analyse the economic effects of extreme weather events, which are only increasing.

According to the paper, over the past 50 years, 7,063 extreme weather events occurred in India, causing 141,308 deaths, with an average of 20 deaths per event. Floods were responsible for maximum mortality (46.1% of all deaths) followed by tropical cyclones with 28.6% mortality.

Mortality due to the extreme weather events was maximum in the decade 1970-1979 (87.5% of these mortalities were due to floods and tropical cyclones) followed by 1990-1999. These were the decades of the three most destructive tropical cyclones—the Odisha Cyclone in 1971, the Andhra Pradesh Cyclone in 1977, and the Odisha Super Cyclone in 1999.

According to EM-DAT (the international disasters database) the total estimated damages due to these extreme weather events are equivalent to $99 billion over the past 50 years.

“While apposite disaster management and early warning systems have averted loss of lives significantly, the economic loss due to extreme weather events has increased two-fold in recent decades. Further, it is projected that India’s productivity loss due to heatwaves will increase two-fold. Identification of compounded impacts of extreme weather events and climate-proofing of infrastructures should be national imperatives,” said Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

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