Climate kills

According to Oxfam 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2010 – more than twice the number (10,000) for the whole of 2009. Their information comes from reinsurance company Munich Re.

The number of extreme weather events was 725 to September, as against 850 for 2009. The number of extreme events is likely to exceed the ten-year average of 770, but not by a large margin. This year included some particularly serious ones, such as the floods in Pakistan and the heatwave in Russia.

The Pakistan floods affected more than 20 million people, submerging about a fifth of the country, claiming 2,000 lives and causing $9.7 billion in damage. Summer temperatures in Russia exceeded the long-term average by 7.8°C, doubling the daily death rate in Moscow to 700 and causing fires that destroyed 26 per cent of the country’s wheat crop. Russia banned grain exports as a result and soon after world grain prices increased, affecting poor people particularly.

Statistics relating to extreme weather events are tricky. The number of deaths obviously relates to the severity of the individual events and how many people were living in areas where the events occurred and hence vulnerable.

A different perspective is provided in a new report on vulnerability to climate impact put out by DARA (Development Assistance Research Associates – see also Wikipedia) and the Climate Vulnerable Forum.The latter was formed by the Bandos Island declaration in the Republic of the Maldives on November 10, 2009 and comprises Kiribati, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vietnam and of course The Maldives.

They have devised a Climate Vulnerability Monitor with four climate impact areas – health, weather disasters, habitat loss and economic stress. The actual monitor shows Australia to be one of the more fortunate places on the planet in the 2030 time frame. Amongst the developed countries the USA is one of the worst affected. In terms of regions the most severely affected appear to be West and East Africa and South Asia. Amongst the larger developing countries China, South Africa and India have problems. The worst I can find is Myanmar, which registers acute+ on all four factors.

Using WHO figures the report finds that there are 330,000 climate related deaths each year, expected to increase to a million by 2030. Fully 99% of these are in developing countries. Also:

Today, the majority of impacts are still highly concentrated in more than 50 acutely vulnerable low-income countries, urgently needing assistance. Close to 80% of the entire human toll of climate change exclusively concerns children in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia succumbing to malnutrition, diarrheal disease or malaria, discloses the report.

“If we let pressures more than triple, or worse, no amount of humanitarian assistance or development aid is going to stem the suffering and devastation. Highly fragile countries will become graveyards over which we pour billions of dollars. Low-lying islands will simply not be viable anymore, then disappear. We will all pay and we will pay big time,” said DARA Director General Ross Mountain, who previously headed large UN field operations, including for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq.

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives reckons what has to be done is very clear.

In terms of mitigation it is really dumb on the pert of developing countries to pollute their way to prosperity, he says. The Maldives is trying to set the pace with zero emissions as a 2020 target.

Secondly funds are required now for adaptation. delays are usual but frustrating and damaging.

Finally, this group, as with the ALBA countries, will want to make their own judgements at Cancun. Last month they held the Tarawa Climate Change Conference in Kiribati to try to bring together the various groupings which will be attending Cancún. As far as I can see ALBA wasn’t there.

7 thoughts on “Climate kills”

  1. Interesting one Brian. However, the figures are going to be understated because some of the deaths will be years after the event and the cause of death may relate to a number of factors.

    Reducing population is certainly part of the fix.

  2. These kinds of figures need to be adjusted for the level of development of the areas affected though, which is tricky. E.g. the earthquake in NZ (I know, it’s not weather…) killed 1 person, while a less severe earthquake in a similarly-populated part of Iran killed tens of thousands. A few poorly located extreme events will kill a lot more people than a lot of well-located extreme events (cf flooding in Pakistan vs. flooding in Australia).

  3. Heads up on the latest in War on Science media disinformation:

    Coldest Winter in 1000 Years Cometh – not: Real Climate: [Rahmstorf & Serdeczny 4 December 2010]

    This claim circulates in the internet and in many mainstream media as well: Scientists have allegedly predicted the coldest winter in 1,000 years for Europe. What is behind it? Nothing – no scientist has predicted anything like it. A Polish tabloid made up the story. An interesting lesson about today´s media

  4. Thanks, Fran. This article is for those who want to know what’s really going on.

    John D, the numbers are really quite small (a) compared with what they will be in the second half of this century, and (b) compared with avoidable deaths from all sources.

    On the latter, Johan Galtung when the twin towers went down reckoned there were 100,000 deaths per day in the developing world from what he called “structural violence”. By that he meant deaths that could be avoided with changed policies by the developed world towards the developing world.

    100,000 per day is obviously 36.5 million per year and I take it (though he never went into detail) meant deaths from malnutrition and hunger, infant diseases where there is a lack of medicine, immunisation and health facilities etc.

  5. Brian,
    The topic was “Climate Kills”, then the article goes on to talk about localised weather events.
    What is the break up of cold weather versus hot weather deaths ?
    Variabilty in weather has and is always present, its a big stretch to then change weather kills to climate kills.
    I’ve seen dozens of dead cows and kangaroos during recent droughts around Broken Hill, but I’ve never heard a farmer say “climate killed them” it was a drought, whether its related to climate is another question totally.

  6. John M what I’m interested in is the longer term patterning of things, which is climate. For example, the possible tripling of deaths by 2030.

    Also “extreme weather” is a standard topic in discussion about climate change.

  7. Climate kills generally, John Michelmore. Weather is a subset of climate. Weather can be drought or flood, both of which can kill and destroy by supplying to much or too little of the same thing, water.

Comments are closed.