A view of Namkhana near the Sunderbans, in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, hit by cyclone Amphan in 2020. (File photo)
A view of Namkhana near the Sunderbans, in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, hit by cyclone Amphan in 2020. (File photo)

Cyclones, floods in India among Asia’s top ten deadly disasters in past 50 yrs

The biggest disaster in Asia in terms of deaths was recorded in Bangladesh during cyclone Bhola in 1970 when an estimated 300,000 persons were killed
By Jayashree Nandi
UPDATED ON JUL 23, 2021 09:33 AM IST

Top ten disasters in Asia during 1970 and 2019, both in terms of deaths and economic losses, included cyclone and flooding events in India, according to data released by World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) on Friday.

The biggest disaster in Asia in terms of deaths was recorded in Bangladesh during cyclone Bhola in 1970 when an estimated 300,000 persons were killed. The worst disaster in terms of economic losses was recorded in China during 1998 floods causing an approximate loss of 47.02 billion USD. Tropical cyclones that affected India in 1977 killing 14,204 people; in 1999 killing 9,843 people and in 1971 killing 9,658 people figure in the top ten list in terms of deaths. India’s 2014 floods figure in the list of costliest disasters with a loss of approximately 16.90 billion USD.

In Europe, in comparison, the top ten disasters were dominated by extreme temperatures causing massive loss of lives and floods in terms of economic losses.

Super cyclone Amphan which made landfall in the Sunderbans near the India-Bangladesh border last year is estimated to be the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the North Indian Ocean with economic losses of approximately US$14 billion, WMO said last year.

Citing data from the forthcoming WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019) which will be released ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September, WMO said over the 50-year period, 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 global level.

WMO also said on Friday that recent flooding events in China; heat waves in North America are clearly related to climate crisis and that no country developed or developing will be spared from its impacts.

Of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the highest lives lost globally during the period have been droughts (650,000 deaths), storms (577,232 deaths), floods (58,700 deaths) and extreme temperature (55,736 deaths), according to the Atlas. As far as economic losses are concerned, the top 10 events globally include storms (US$ 521 billion) and floods (US$ 115 billion), according to an excerpt from the Atlas.

“Weather, climate and water-related hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The human and economic 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,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

In the past week, Mumbai and other parts of India’s west coast also reported unprecedented rains. Landslides killed at least 31 persons in Mumbai on July 18; and at least 74 people were killed in lightning strikes in 24 hours on July 12 and 13 in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.

“Recent record-breaking heatwaves in North America are clearly linked to global warming,” said Taalas, citing a rapid attribution analysis that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.

“But 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. 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 added.

According to WMO, the German national meteorological service, DWD, said up to two months’ worth of rainfall fell in two days (July 14 and 15) on soils that were already near saturation in the most affected regions of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Switzerland and Austria were also hit by severe flooding.

About 100 to 150mm rain was recorded in 24 hours between July 14 and 15. The DWD weather station of Wipperfuerth-Gardeweg (North Rhine-Westphalia) recorded 162mm followed by Cologne-Stammheim (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 160mm, Kall-Sistig (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 152mm and Wuppertal-Buchenhofen (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 151mm. Some parts of the central Chinese province of Henan received more accumulated rainfall between July 17 and 21 than the annual average. The national meteorological observation station in Zhengzhou reached 720mm – compared to its annual average of 641mm.

“Climate change is exacerbating the climate crisis with an increased frequency and intensity of hydro-meteorological disasters across the globe. An analysis by CEEW suggests that more than 97.51 million people in India are exposed to extreme flood events, and the frequency of associated flood events (like landslides, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, sea-level rise, etc.) have increased 20-fold. These numbers are a grim reminder of the state of vulnerability, and ignoring these signals only compounds the chronic and acute risks that we will face in the near future. India needs a proactive climate risk mitigation strategy with a broad focus on building back faster and better. Enhanced investment in an improved emergency response framework and climate-proofing of infrastructure that accounts for multi-hazards can build resilience. Restoring and reviving the natural ecosystems should be a national imperative that needs renewed political, financial, and technological focus,” said Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

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