Water, the Biggest Villain in Hazards

The world is going through the threats of climate change and in the midst of such threats, water related hazards top the list of natural disasters and for the highest loss of lives in the last 50 years, said a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO report said that droughts led to the highest number of 650 000 deaths. Floods led to 58 700 deaths and extreme temperature 55 736 deaths across the world, said the forthcoming WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019).

Related to economic loss, the report said that storms led to a loss of 521 billion dollars and floods caused a loss 115 billion dollars. The report noted that storms and floods inflicted the largest economic losses in the past 50 years in Europe (377.5 billion dollars).


Referring to the recent torrential rain and flood in Central Europe and China, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas pointed out that climate and water related hazards are increasing because of climate change. .

He stated that the recent record-breaking heat waves in North America were linked to global warming. He also cited an analysis that pointed out the possibility of heat waves at least 150 times more because of climate change caused by green house emissions.

Noting that heavy rainfall also has the stamp of climate change, Prof Taalas said that the atmosphere holds more moisture as it gets warmer. This means more rain and increasing risk of flood, he added.


The WMO said that water is the primary vehicle through the impacts of climate change could be felt.  The Organisation said that climate change and water need to be brought to the same table – into the same conversation to effectively address both water and climate challenges. Highlighting the need to tackle them as one, the WMO said it was because of this that it was spearheading a new Water and Climate Coalition, a community of multi-sectoral actors, guided by high-level leadership and focused on integrated water and climate action.


The WMO pointed out the report of German National Meteorological Service, which said that upto two months worth of rainfall fell in just two days (July 14 and 15) that led to the devastating floods in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.

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 720 mm – compared to its annual average of 641 mm. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, received the equivalent of half its annual rainfall in the space of six hours. The six -hour rainfall was 382 mm and from 16:00-17:00 on 20 July, the one -hour rainfall in Zhengzhou exceeded 200mm. More than 600 stations recorded precipitation over 250mm. The maximum precipitation was 728mm. The Henan Meteorological Service initiated the highest-level emergency response to deal with the flooding.


The WMO said that the death toll from extreme weather was generally falling because of improved early warnings and better disaster management. The UN Organisation said that 1,59,438 deaths were recorded in 1 672 disasters in Europe in the last 50 years. This led to an economic loss of 476.5 billion dollars.  Floods led to 38 per cent of deaths and storms 32 per cent. However, The WMO said that extreme temperatures accounted for the highest number of deaths (93 per cent), with 148 109 lives lost over five decades.

The World Organisation stated that two extreme heat waves of 2003 and 2010 accounted for the highest number of deaths (80 per cent), with 127 946 lives lost in the two events. The 2003 heat wave caused half of the deaths in Europe (45 per cent) with a total of 72210 deaths within the 15 affected countries, said the forthcoming Atlas.

Within Europe, the new Atlas noted that riverine floods that came to around 22 per cent, general storms to 14 per cent and general floods to ten per cent were the most prevalent hazards in Europe.

The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019) (hereafter called Atlas), will be published ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September. It is one of a series of WMO initiatives to provide decision-makers with scientifically based information about the weather and climate extreme and the state of the global climate.


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