Climate change: human lives at stake
In the last decade the majority (90%) of disasters worldwide have been cause by floods, storms, heat waves and other weather-related events. A total of 6,457 weather related disasters have been recorded in the past twenty years, taking a total of 606,000 lives, with an average of 30,000 lives per year. Climate change increases the frequency of weather related disasters. Floods alone accounted for 47% of all weather related disasters in the past twenty years, affecting around 2.3 billion people worldwide.
When planning cities and making communities more resilient to a changing climate, two factors are very important: population growth and increased human vulnerability. The current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to UN statistics. Increased human vulnerability is the consequence of uncontrolled building in dangerous areas, such as flood plains and storm-prone coastal zones. At the moment, nearly 25% of the world’s population lives within 100km of a shoreline. Additionally, 600 million people live in coastal regions that are less than 10 metres above sea level. Many of the world’s largest cities are at sea, including Tokyo, Bangkok, Istanbul, London, New York and Buenos Aires. An increasing human population, living in already prone-to-be-dangerous areas sets a dangerous scenario for the future. While it is hard to move entire cities, it is possible to make them more resilient.
Just recently, Peru faced heavy rains, floods and landslides, which have led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the country. These heavy rains, powered by El Niño have flooded parts of Peru with 10 times more rainfall than normal. The floods are the worst in decades for Peru. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mr. Robert Glasser, states that in order to prevent disasters like these and to reduce disaster losses, there needs to be a much broader understanding of the nature of disaster risk in society at large. According to him, this includes better understanding of the impacts of climate change and how it alters local weather patterns. Risk has to be addressed in local development plans. This will be a key issue at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be held in Mexico in May.