Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Climate change now the main driver of natural disasters

Environment News Service: Ministers from more than 40 Asia-Pacific countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur today seeking ways to reduce the social and financial impact of natural disasters in the region - many of them linked to the rising global temperature. The ministers are developing regional cooperation systems for disaster preparedness and early warning systems. The Asia-Pacific ministers are meeting as half-way across the world in Poznan, Poland some 11,000 participants in the annual UN climate conference are negotiating an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions that will kick in when the current Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Most natural disasters today are linked to climate change, says John Holmes, UN emergency relief coordinator and head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA. OCHA today launched a campaign to raise awareness of the humanitarian implications of climate change, calling for improved disaster preparedness and response measures in countries that suffer most from extreme weather events. "This campaign highlights our huge concerns about the humanitarian impact of climate change," said Holmes. "Any credible vision of the future must recognize that humanitarian needs are increasing and that climate change is the main driver. We are already seeing its effects, in terms of the numbers of people affected and in the rising cost of response."

…From 1988 through 2007, over 75 percent of all disaster events were climate-related and accounted for 45 percent of deaths and 80 percent of the economic losses caused by natural hazards. The most vulnerable are impoverished people living in risk-prone hotspot countries, where the risks from extreme climatic events overlap with human vulnerability In 2007, OCHA issued an unprecedented 15 funding appeals for sudden natural disasters, five more than the previous annual record - all but one due to climatic events. "So welcome to the 'new normal' of extreme weather. Climate change may well exacerbate chronic hunger and malnutrition across much of the developing world," wrote Holmes in the current issue of "The Economist" magazine. "And it will almost certainly precipitate battles over resources."

…In the last 20 years, the number of recorded disasters has doubled from about 200 to more than 400 per year. Disasters caused by floods are more frequent - up from about 50 in 1985 to more than 200 in 2005 - and floods damage larger areas than they did 20 years ago.

Cylcones Nancy and Olaf get together in 2005 and make a night of it. NASA

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