Humanity is entering a ‘spiral of self-destruction’, warns the UN

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Humanity suffers from a “broken perception of risk”, prompting us to engage in activities and behaviors that cause climate change and a growing number of disasters around the world, the UN warned on Tuesday.

In a new report, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reductionor UNDRR, found that between 350 and 500 medium-to-large scale disasters have occurred each year around the world over the past two decades.

This is five times more than the average of the previous three decades, he added.

And amid climate change, disastrous events brought on by drought, extreme temperatures and devastating floods are expected to occur even more frequently in the future.

The report estimates that by 2030 we will experience 560 disasters worldwide each year, or 1.5 disasters per day on average.

UNDRR said in a statement that the sharp rise in disasters around the world could be attributed to a “broken perception of risk based on optimism, underestimation and invincibility”.

This, he said, has led to political, financial and development decisions that exacerbate vulnerabilities and put people at risk.

Ignoring the immense risks we face “places humanity in a spiral of self-destruction”, warned UN Under-Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in the statement.

“Raise the alarm by telling the truth is not only necessary but crucial,” added UNDRR official Mami Mizutori.

“The science is clear. It is cheaper to act before a disaster devastates than to wait for the destruction to be done and react after it has happened,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned this year that the impacts of climate change, from heat to drought and flooding, are set to become more frequent and intense, damaging the nature, people and places where they live.

But measures to reduce global warming emissions and adapt to global warming are both lagging behind, the panel said.

Wait now, pay later

Ignoring risk has a high price.

Disasters around the world have cost an estimated $170 billion (€160 billion) every year for the past decade, according to the report.

But most of this spending is incurred in low-income countries, which lose an average of 1% of their national GDP to disasters each year, compared to just 0.1-0.2% in wealthier countries.

Asia-Pacific countries are hardest hit, with an annual GDP decline of 1.6%, according to the report, released ahead of a global disaster forum on the Indonesian island of Bali next month.

In the Philippines, for example, millions of people are still recovering from Typhoon Rai which hit in December, killing more than 300 people and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, as well as damages of around $500 million.

And as the number of disasters increases, so will the costs.

The report estimates that an additional 37.6 million people will live in conditions of extreme poverty by 2030 due to the impacts of climate change and disasters.

Most catastrophic losses are meanwhile not covered by insurers.

Since 1980, only about 40% have been covered worldwide, but in developing countries less than 10% of these losses were covered by insurance.

“Disasters can be avoided, but only if countries invest time and resources to understand and reduce their risks,” Mizutori said in the statement.

However, she warned, “by deliberately ignoring risk and not factoring it into decision-making, the world is effectively financing its own destruction.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and the Thomson Reuters Foundation)


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