World pays the price for record bad weather

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bad weather is breaking all records, costing the world up to six times as much as it did only 10 years ago, a new report concludes.

Vital Signs 1997, by the prestigious Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, shows that droughts, hurricanes, and flooding cost the world $60bn last year - greater than the total wealth of 48 countries put together. It was almost twice as high as the previous record in 1995.

The report is published as Britain's longest drought tightens its grip, and in the week that a swarm of tornadoes ripped through central Texas, killing at least 32 people.

Figures collected by the Munich Reinsurance Company, one of the largest in the world, show that losses from weather-related disasters have totalled more than $200bn in the last six years - four times as much as in the whole of the 1980s.

"The graph just turns up and heads straight for the sky," Christopher Flavin, senior vice president of the Institute and author of the relevant part of the report said yesterday. "It is an alarming trend."

Last year's biggest disaster was the flooding of both the Yangtse and the Yellow River in China, in July, which killed 2,700 people, drove two million from their homes and cost $26bn.

Other disasters included;

n A big hurricane season in the Atlantic, hitting Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico - and culminating in Hurricane Fran, which caused $1.6m of damage in the south-eastern United States.

n A series of cyclones in the Northwest Pacific, damaging China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

n A severe cyclone which killed 2,000 people in India.

n A bush fire, made possible by drought, which ravaged 100,000 square kilometres of Mongolia.

n Fierce storms at the turn of the year which caused flooding costing $1.6bn in California.

Part of the reason for the record damage may be that housing and industry is increasingly built on floodplains or on vulnerable coasts, as populations grow. So floods and storms which might once have caused little destruction now devastate settlements.

But Mr Flavin is more inclined to blame global warming - which scientists have long warned will increase the frequency of such "extreme events".

The report also records that emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming, reached a new record last year.