• What Was the Impact of Extreme Weather in 2020?

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What Was the Impact of Extreme Weather in 2020?

Jan 07 2021

Humans paid a very high price for extreme weather in 2020, both in monetary and in death toll terms, according to a new report from charity Christian Aid. The report, published at the tail end of last year, identified the ten costliest natural disasters from 2020, each of which cost local and international economies a minimum of $1.5 billion. Nine of the ten events cost over $5 billion.

Of course, the impact wasn’t just felt in a fiscal sense, either. Thousands of people suffered premature deaths as a direct result of extreme weather phenomena in the last 12 months, including hurricanes, floods, bushfires and even locust swarms. The increased incidence of such disasters is being attributed to manmade climate change, underlining the necessity for governments, corporations and individuals to plough a different furrow going forwards in order to avoid repeat outcomes in the years ahead.

A high price

From a purely financial sense, the hurricanes which ravaged the US and Central America for much of the year were the most expensive weather event of 2020. Together, the 30 named storms cost the economy $41 billion in damages, as well as killing over 400 people and displacing thousands more.

Floods decimating the coastal regions of China ($32 billion), India ($10 billion) and Japan ($5 billion) were other costly events of 2020. Indeed, even Europe and the UK – which has relatively advanced flood warning systems in place – were not unaffected, with storms Alex and Ciara costing the continent a combined total of $5.9 billion.

Other expensive phenomena included the wildfires that decimated the West Coast of the USA to the tune of $20 billion, Cyclone Amphan, which cost Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka a cumulative $13 billion and locust swarms which severely damaged crops in East Africa, leaving local farmers $8.5 billion out of pocket. What’s more, all of those sums are based upon insured losses, meaning the actual figures are believed to be even higher.

The human cost

Of course, a natural disaster can never be quantified solely in monetary terms. In addition to the costliest weather events of 2020, the Christian Aid study also listed five further incidents that might not have had such a sizable impact on the balance sheet, but which had a huge toll on human life.

For example, the aforementioned Storm Ciara – which is believed to have cost $2.7 billion alone – claimed a relatively low tally of just 14 lives, thanks in large part to the standards and methods for environmental monitoring in the UK and beyond. Meanwhile, floods in South Sudan might not have been so expensive in purely monetary terms, but they did cause the deaths of 148 individuals and wiped out the entire crop yield for the year, affecting countless people in untold ways.

“It is vital that 2021 ushers in a new era of activity to turn this climate change tide,” explains report author Dr Kat Kramer, who hopes her work can be a catalyst for change in the coming 12 months. “With President-elect Biden in the White House, social movements across the world calling for urgent action, post-COVID green recovery investment and a crucial UN climate summit hosted by the UK, there is a major opportunity for countries to put us on a path to a safe future.”


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