Deadly skies: Extreme weather has killed 2 million people since 1970, UN report says

Doyle Rice

Extreme weather and climate events have killed more than 2 million people around the world in the past half-century, the United Nations' weather agency says in a new report.

In addition to the death toll, those events have caused economic damage of about $4.3 trillion.

Though the number of deaths have decreased in recent years thanks to improved early warning systems, economic losses from the weather events "have soared," the World Meteorological Organization said in the report, released Monday. That trend of rising economic damage is expected to continue.

A man and a boy walk across an almost dried up bed of river Yamuna following hot weather in New Delhi, India, on May 2, 2022

Tropical cyclones are deadliest weather disasters

  • Worldwide, tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) were the primary cause of human deaths and economic losses from weather-related events.
  • From 1970 to 2021, more than 90% of reported deaths worldwide occurred in developing countries.
  • There were nearly 12,000 extreme weather, climate and water-related events over the past half-century around the globe.
  • The U.S. alone had $1.7 trillion in economic losses because of extreme weather, which accounted for 39% of losses worldwide during the 51-year period.

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When it comes to deaths, “the most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The Geneva-based agency also has repeatedly warned about the consequences of human-caused climate change, saying rising temperatures have increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather – including floods, hurricanes, cyclones, heat waves and drought.

Debris is strewn about tornado-damaged homes March 26, 2023, in Rolling Fork, Miss.

Good news about early warnings

"Improved early warnings and coordinated disaster management has slashed the human casualty toll over the past half a century,” the WMO said.

As an example, the organization mentioned Cyclone Mocha, which swept across Bangladesh and Myanmar earlier this month and killed hundreds. Though it's a tragic toll, Taalas said, in earlier catastrophes "both Myanmar and Bangladesh suffered death tolls of tens and even hundreds of thousands of people.”

“Thanks to early warnings and disaster management these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history,” he said. “Early warnings save lives.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wants to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems by the end of 2027, the WMO said.

While the number of deaths globally due to weather has decreased in recent decades, the economic losses have increased.

Contributing: The Associated Press