A report published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in November of last year revealed a definite increase in natural disasters on a global scale. While subjects such as politics and human rights issues claim their rightful spots in front page news, reports of weather extremities around the world have been recently rising in number behind the cover pages. As scientist debate whether the causes of these changes are due to natural developments or if these environmental variations are human caused, the powerful weather strikes rage on.
The NEJM further noted that, since 1990, natural disasters have been impacting approximately 217 million people per year. Conveniently enough, the same year brought about a movement from the United Nations to designate the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). IDNDR’S goals included an overall advancement in preparation for and efficiency against natural disasters with a focus on aiding developing countries.
“While much of the globe could face increasing or new risks from some type of extreme weather moving into the future, these risks are not evenly distributed across countries or communities within countries- vulnerability and exposure to hazards often disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities who also to some extent lack the ability to adapt to increasing risk,” Professor of Biology Katherine McHugh said in an email interview.
In 2010, a monumental monsoon hit Pakistan and caused the Indus River to rise, killing over 1,600 people and affecting another 2.5 million people according to official approximations. This event prompted the United Nations to continue to improve upon emergency relief given to developing countries and to “recognize the adverse impact of climate change.”
Just this year alone there have been several instances of climate-related weather extremities around the world. In early August, Typhoon Nakri tore across South Korea, claiming the lives of 10 people and severely injuring another two. Alor Setar, a major province of Kedan, Malaysia, endured a tornado last Wednesday which left at least 15 houses damaged. In June of last year, record flash floods impacted over 1,000 people in this same area.
“There is a big interaction between temperature and the hydrological cycle,” Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Emily Saarinen said in an email interview. “As temperatures increase, there is more evaporation. But water does not disappear, it just is redistributed elsewhere in the hydrological cycle. So with global climate change, some areas are drier and some have increased precipitation. The problem is the plants and animals (and people) cannot cope with the rapid pace of these changes.”
An article released last November by AccuWeather.com made the distinction between climate-related weather events – such as floods, storm surges, droughts, heat/cold waves and wildfires – and geophysical disasters which have remained steady since the 1970s, sharply contrasting with climate-related events which have gone off the charts.
Climate Impacts Day began in 2012 and was created solely as a day to recognize the connection between recent extreme weather and climate changes. Founder of 350.org, the website which coordinated Climate Impacts Day, Bill McKibben described the dedicated day as “a worldwide witness to the destruction global warming is already causing.”
Reports and movements such as 350.org have aimed at convincing the world of the significance of increasing climate-related weather extremities. Section 1.4 of the annual synthesis report released earlier this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) confirmed the importance of recognizing such dramatic discrepancies in weather patterns.
The section reads: “Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.”
Section 2.2 of the same report projects the sobering expectation that “extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions” and that the global mean sea level will continue to rise.
“Economic impacts and costs in terms of loss of human life often differ geographically and with the type of disaster,” McHugh said. European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, reported at a disaster risk reduction conference the startling fact that costs resulting from natural disaster have increased from $50 billion a year in the 1980s to $200 billion in the last decade.
These reports, facts and past data all point to the undeniable changes in weather patterns and predict more climate-related weather extremities. The acknowledgement of this scientific evidence is vital to further progress in preparing for natural disasters. The actions following such knowledge will be influential to human survival, especially in developing parts of the world.