DURBAN - Pakistan, Guatemala and Colombia topped the league table in 2010 for countries that were worst hit by extreme weather events, according to a “climate risk index” published on Tuesday.
But over a 20-year span, the countries that were most vulnerable were Bangladesh, Myanmar and Honduras, said the report, published on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Durban.
The index, compiled by a European NGO called Germanwatch, is an annually-published pointer of which countries are most in need of shoring up defences against floods storms, drought and heatwaves, which UN climate scientists say will worsen this century.
It factors in the cost of the event in terms of human lives and absolute losses in dollar terms, but also the relative cost according to the country’s level of prosperity.
Pakistan in 2010 was hit by the worst floods in its history, with 84 of 121 districts affected, Germanwatch said. Guatemala was rocked by hurricanes and flooding struck Colombia.
Russia ranked fourth on the list, after a heatwave in July that caused massive forest and peat fires and led indirectly to 55,000 deaths. Scientists are loath to pin single weather events to the longer-term trends of climate change.
But Germanwatch, citing a study in the US peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), said the Russian heatwave could well be considered an exception.
Across the world, more than 710,000 people died from 1991 to 2010 from 14,000 extreme weather events, incurring economic losses in today’s terms of more than 2.3 trillion dollars, it said. When seen across this 20-year period, not a single developed country features in the top 10 for climate risk. Only one – Russia – featured in the top 20, and this was as a result of the 2010 heatwave. “These results underscore the particular vulnerability of poor countries to climatic risks, despite the fact that the absolute monetary damages are much higher in rich countries,” Germanwatch said.
Meanwhile, 13 of the warmest years recorded have occurred within the last decade and a half, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation said on Tuesday.
The year 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured, the WMO said in its annual report on climate trends and extreme weather events, unveiled at UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa. “Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement, adding that policy makers should take note of the findings.
“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached new highs and are very rapidly approaching levels consistent with a 2 to 2.4 Celsius rise in average global temperatures.”
Scientists believe that any rise above the 2.0 threshold could trigger far-reaching and irreversible changes on Earth over land and in the seas. The 2002-2011 period equals 2001-2010 as the warmest decade since 1850, the report said. 2011 ranks as the 10th warmest year since 1850, when accurate measurements began.