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UN: Economic Losses From Natural Disasters Soar


A teddy bear hangs next to earthquake and tsunami damaged property along the waterfront in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Oct. 10, 2018.

A new U.N. report finds a dramatic increase in the amount of economic loss incurred from natural disasters during the past 20 years, with climate-related disasters driving expensive property and infrastructure damage to new heights.

The report finds so-called geophysical disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are deadliest, but climate-related disasters such as droughts, floods and heat waves cause economic losses to soar.

Between 1998 and 2017, disaster-hit countries have reported $2.9 trillion in direct economic losses, with 77 percent resulting from climate change. Data show the United States has suffered the greatest economic losses, nearly $1 trillion, followed by China, Japan, India and Puerto Rico.

Rich countries bear the brunt of economic losses, while low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by disasters, said Ricardo Mena, a senior official with the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

"The report shows that because of much higher vulnerability, people in low and middle-income countries have seven times greater probabilities of being killed by a disaster than people in developed nations," he said.

Those who suffer most from climate change are people in poor countries who contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the report warns. It predicts heat waves will be the biggest problem in the future, and will be much harder to manage than storms and floods in rich and poor countries alike.

The report urges countries to invest in disaster risk reduction, calling that the most cost-effective way to reduce the growing risks from climate change.

The report was jointly produced by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.