ECONOMIC losses caused by climate-related disasters have soared by about two and a half times in the last 20 years, the United Nations said yesterday.

From 1998 to 2017, losses from disasters totaled US$2.9 trillion, of which 77 percent was due to extreme weather that is intensifying as the world warms, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said in a report.

That compares with overall losses of US$1.3 trillion from 1978 to 1997, 68 percent of that accounted for by climate and weather hazards, including storms, floods and droughts.

“We can see that climate change is playing an increasingly important role in driving up disaster losses around the world, and that probably will be the case in the future as well,” said Ricardo Mena, an official at the UNISDR.

On Monday, climate scientists warned that if global average temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, it would lead to more suffering, especially among the world’s poorest.

The planet has already heated up by about 1 degree.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather, and disasters will continue to set back sustainable development, the report said.

Climate-related disasters accounted for about 90 percent of the 7,255 major disasters between 1998 and 2017, most of them floods and storms, it said.

Losses were greatest in the United States at US$945 billion, followed by China at US$492 billion and Japan at US$376 billion.

In the past two decades, 1.3 million people were killed and 4.4 billion were injured, left homeless, displaced or required emergency help.

More than half the deaths were caused by 563 earthquakes and related tsunamis, said the report drawing on data from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium.

Although rich countries shoulder the highest absolute economic losses, the report noted the disproportionate impact of disasters on low and middle-income countries.

People in poorer nations are seven times more likely to be killed by a disaster than in wealthier ones, Mena said.

In developing countries, economic losses are not analyzed for many disasters, meaning the new data was just the “tip of the iceberg,” he noted.

Puerto Rico was the only high-income territory ranked among the top 10 places for annual losses as a percentage of economic growth alongside Haiti, Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Georgia, Mongolia, Tajikistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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