Rising temperatures continue to cause heatwaves: UN

Updated 13 Oct 2020

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A man cools down with water at a mosque during the 2015 heatwave in Karachi. ─ AFP/File
A man cools down with water at a mosque during the 2015 heatwave in Karachi. ─ AFP/File

UNITED NATIONS: As Karachi prepared for an unusual, early winter heatwave, UN experts warned on Monday that a 1.1-degree Celsius increase in the global temperature would continue to cause such calamities.

“Between 2000 and 2019, extreme temperatures caused 13 per cent of all disaster deaths worldwide, with the majority (91pc) being the result of heatwave waves,” warned a report of the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

The UN agency recorded major weather-related catastrophes during the first two decades of the 21st century. And the most notable among these were the May and June heatwave waves of 2015 in India and Pakistan which resulted in 2,248 and 1,229 deaths, respectively.

“This is clear evidence that in a world where the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, the impacts are being felt in the increased frequency of extreme weather events including heatwave waves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires,” the UNDRR reported.

Noting that the first 20 years of this century had seen a “staggering” rise in climate disasters, UN researchers warned that “wealthy nations have done little to tackle the harmful emissions that are linked to climate threats which make up the bulk of disasters today”.

The Pakistan Meteoro­lo­gical Department has war­ned that an unseasonal heatwave wave might prevail over parts of Sindh, including Karachi, this week, with Day Tempera­tures rising to 40-42ºC.

UN experts noted that almost all extreme temperature deaths were recorded in the global north, with Europe accounting for the lion’s share at 88pc of all deaths.

In 2003, a major European heatwave wave killed over 72,000 people and in 2010, another heatwave wave led to more than 55,000 deaths in Russia. More recently, two heatwave waves in 2019 resulted in over 1,400 deaths in France.

Three mega disasters – with more than 100,000 deaths each – also occurred during 2000-2019: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Other mass casualty events include the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan which killed 73,300 people, and the 2008 earthquake in China which killed 87,500 people.

Floods accounted for 44pc of all disasters from 2000 to 2019, affecting 1.6 billion people worldwide, the highest figure for any disaster type. The deadliest flooding events from 2000 to 2019 were the June 2013 floods in India (6,054 deaths), May 2004 floods in Haiti (2,665 deaths), and the July 2010 floods in Pakistan (1,985 deaths).

China and India typically dominate the list of countries by impacts in absolute numbers, largely due to their massive populations. Together, the two nations account for over 2.8bn disaster-affected people between 2000 and 2019.

The top 10 list of countries by absolute number of people affected by disaster is dominated by Asia (7 countries), with only two from the Americas (the US and Brazil), and one from Africa (Ethiopia).

Haiti, Indonesia, and Myanmar took the top 3 spots for absolute death tolls in the mega-disasters of the past two decades. Pakistan is also on the list, with 84,604 deaths.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2020