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India’s vulnerability to extreme weather events remains among the highest in the world, killing thousands every year and causing economic losses counted in billions

Extreme rainfall in Kerala led to the worst flooding in 100 years in the southern state (Photo by Johnson Jament)

Extreme rainfall in Kerala led to the worst flooding in 100 years in the southern state (Photo by Johnson Jament)

India was battered by extreme weather events like incessant rainfall, flooding and severe cyclones in 2018, researchers said in a report released at the annual UN climate summit being held in Madrid. The report ranks India as one of the worst-affect countries in the world last year.

The 2018 June to September monsoon season severely affected India, said the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 prepared by Germanwatch, a Berlin-based environmental organisation. “The state of Kerala was especially impacted,” the report said. More than 400 people drowned or were buried under landslides set off by the flooding that was the worst in one hundred years. Over 220,000 people had to leave their homes, and 20,000 houses were destroyed. “The damage amounted to USD 2.8 billion.”

Additionally India’s east coast on the Bay of Bengal was hit by cyclones Titli and Gaja in October and November 2018. “With wind speeds of up to 150 km per hour, cyclone Titli killed at least eight people and left around 450,000 without electricity,” the report noted.

The index, which only tracks extreme weather events, ranked India as the fifth-most affected country in 2018, in a list that was topped by Japan, followed by the Philippines, Germany and Madagascar. More than 2,000 people lost their lives due to climate-related disasters in India, which suffered losses estimated at USD 37.8 billion.

Source: Germanwatch

Source: Germanwatch

In 2017, there were 2,726 deaths related to extreme weather events that led to economic losses of USD 13.8 billion, the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 had said. India was ranked fourteenth in the 2019 index and sixth in the preceding year.

“The Climate Risk Index shows that climate change has disastrous impacts especially for poor countries, but also causes increasingly severe damages in industrialised countries like Japan or Germany,” said David Eckstein of Germanwatch. “Countries like Haiti, Philippines and Pakistan are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover.”

Recurrent catastrophes

Pakistan is among the countries that are “recurrently affected by catastrophes,” the report said. India’s western neighbour continuously ranks among the most affected countries both in the long-term index and the index for the respective year.

Germanwatch uses the NatCatSERVICE database of the reinsurance company Munich Re, as well as the socio-economic data of the International Monetary Fund to annually calculate the risk. Since 2006, it has presented the index at the annual UN climate summit.

In 2018, industrialised countries like Japan and Germany were hit hardest by heat waves and severe drought. The Philippines were hit by the most powerful typhoon recorded worldwide last year. Typhoon Mangkhut was the worst among the 29 storms, 13 typhoons and seven super typhoons in the Pacific Ocean in 2018.

This “underlines the importance of reliable financial support mechanisms for poor countries like these not only in climate change adaptation, but also for dealing with climate-induced loss and damage,” Eckstein said.

In the years from 1999 to 2018, poor countries had to face much higher impacts, the long-term index found. Seven of the 10 countries most affected in this period were developing countries. Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were most affected, according to the long-term index.

Source: Germanwatch

Source: Germanwatch

In the past 20 years, nearly 500,000 deaths were directly linked to more than 12,000 extreme weather events, Germanwatch said, which also resulted in economic damages that amounted to USD 3.54 trillion.

Extreme heat

Heat waves were one major cause of damage in 2018. Of the 10 most affected countries, Germany, Japan and India suffered from extended periods of extreme heat. “Recent science has confirmed the long established link between climate change and the frequency and severity of extreme heat,” the report said. “In Europe, for example, extreme heat spells are now up to 100 times more likely than a century ago. Furthermore, due to a lack of data, impacts of heatwaves on the African continent may be under-represented.”

Extreme heat caused a significant number of deaths in Japan and Germany as temperatures soared past 40 degrees Celsius. In California, Sweden, Russia and Greece, heatwaves triggered the most destructive wildfires experienced in recent years with a high number of fatalities and significant damage, the report said. In the UK and across Northern Europe, extreme heat aggravated prolonged dry spells, leading to severe droughts.

In India, temperatures went up to 50 degrees and the country experienced extreme water stress. Due to a drought in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and empty water reservoirs, provincial capital Chennai went through a long period of extreme water crisis.

Global climate negotiations need to address the lack of additional climate finance to help the poorest people and countries in dealing with these disasters, according to Laura Schaefer of Germanwatch. “They are hit hardest by climate change impacts because they lack the financial and technical capacity to deal with the losses and damages,” she said. “The climate conference… needs to result in a decision to regularly determine the support needs of vulnerable countries for future damages.”


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