How many people die from extreme weather?

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

For once, some good news! The number of people dying from natural disasters has decreased dramatically: in the 1920s over 500,000 people were killed by natural disasters, but this was down to under 75,000 by the 2010s [1]. However, the economic cost of damage has increased [1]. The downwards trend in deaths may be explained by our improving ability to predict natural disasters, and prepare for them before they happen [5].

BUT: the decrease in deaths from extreme weather may not continue into the future [6]. Storms, droughts, fires and floods could become so serious that human technology won’t be enough to prevent huge numbers of deaths [6]. For example, the number of people exposed to severe drought each year is predicted to increase by about 200,000,000 with 2°C of warming [2].

HOW do people die from extreme weather?

Floods can destroy crops (causing food insecurity) [7], and make people drown. Droughts cause food insecurity and a lack of drinking water [8]. Very high temperatures can cause heart attacks [10], and increases in pollutants like ozone and allergens like pollen, causing asthma [3].

The 2003 heatwave in Europe caused over 70,000 extra deaths [4]. As heatwaves become more common and severe, we can expect the number of such deaths to increase [3].


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