20 drown in boat accident in eastern Afghanistan: provincial official

UN official: Better warning, planning cuts disaster deaths despite worsening climate

As climate change makes disasters such as cyclones, floods and droughts more intense, more frequent and affecting more places, fewer people are dying from these disasters around the world thanks to better warning, planning and resilience, a senior United Nations official said.
The world hasn’t really noticed how the kinds of storms that once killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people now claim only a handful of lives, new UN Assistant Secretary-General Kamal Kishore, who heads the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, told The. Associated Press. But he said much more needs to be done to prevent these disasters from pushing people into extreme poverty.
“Fewer people are dying from accidents, and if you look at it as a proportion of the total population, it’s even fewer,” Kishore said in his first interview since taking office in mid-May. “We often take the progress we’ve made for granted.”
“Twenty years ago, there was no early warning system for tsunamis, except for one small part of the world. The entire world is now covered by a tsunami warning system after the 2004 tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, Kishore said.
People are getting better warnings about tropical cyclones — also called hurricanes and typhoons — so now the odds of dying in a tropical cyclone in a place like the Philippines are about one-third of what they were 20 years ago, Kishore said.
As India’s former disaster chief, Kishore points to how his country has reduced the number of deaths thanks to better warnings and community preparedness, such as hospitals being prepared for a surge in births during a cyclone. In 1999, a super cyclone hit eastern India, killing nearly 10,000 people. Then in 2013, a storm of almost similar size hit, but only a few dozen people died. Last year, as Kishore watched, Cyclone Biparjoy killed less than 10 people.
The same is true of flood fatalities, Kishore said.
The data support Kishore, said disaster epidemiologist Debarati Guha-Sapir of the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, which created the global disaster database. Its database — which it admits has missing pieces — shows that the global number of deaths per storm has fallen from about a 10-year average of 24 in 2008 to a 10-year average of about 8 in 2021. The number of flood deaths per event has fallen from ten a year an average of nearly 72 to about 31, its data show.
While disaster deaths are down around the world, there are still pockets in the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, where deaths are increasing or at least staying the same, Guha-Sapir said. Like public health efforts to eradicate measles, most places are succeeding, but the areas struggling the least are not improving, she said.
India and Bangladesh are model countries for better disaster management and death prevention, especially in cyclones, Guha-Sapir said. In 1970, a cyclone in Bangladesh killed more than 300,000 people in one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century, and now “Bangladesh has been doing a fantastic job of disaster risk reduction for years and years and years,” she said.
Highlighting the victories is important, Guha-Sapir said: “Gloom and doom will never get us anywhere.”
While countries like India and Bangladesh have created warning systems, strengthened buildings like hospitals, and know what to do to prepare for and then respond to disasters, much of this is also just because these countries are becoming wealthier and better educated, so they can better manage disasters and protect themselves, Guha-Sapir said. Poorer countries and people cannot.
“Fewer people are dying, but that’s not because climate change isn’t happening,” Kishore said. “This is despite climate change. And that’s because we invested in resilience, invested in early warning systems.”
Kishore said climate change is making his job more difficult, but he doesn’t feel like Sisyphus, the mythical man pushing a huge boulder up a hill.
“You’re experiencing increasing hazards, more frequently and (in) new geographic areas,” Kishore said, noting that places like Brazil that used to not worry too much about floods are now devastated. The same is true of extreme heat, which he said used to be a problem only in some countries, but has now become global, pointing to nearly 60,000 heatwave deaths in Europe in 2022.
Kishore said India, where temperatures flirt with 50C, has reduced heat deaths through special regional plans.
“Despite the new extreme temperatures we are witnessing, every country must redouble its efforts to save lives,” he said. And that means looking at the built environment of cities, he added.
Reducing deaths is only part of the battle to reduce risk, Kishore said.
“We are better at saving lives, not livelihoods,” Kishore said.
While fewer people are dying, “you look at people losing their houses, people losing their businesses, a small farmer running a poultry farm,” Kishore said. When they are flooded or hit by a storm, they can survive, but they have nothing, no seeds, no fishing boats.
“It’s not going as well for us as it should,” Kishore said. “We cannot accept that there will be losses. Of course they will appear, but they could be reduced by an order of magnitude.”

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