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UN: Weather Warnings Saving Lives

FILE: A man walks by a damaged building, in Mananjary district, Madagascar, Wednesday Feb. 22, 2023 after cyclone Freddy reached that East African nation.

GENEVA - Weather-related disasters have surged over the past 50 years, causing swelling economic damage even as early warning systems have meant dramatically fewer deaths, the United Nations said Monday.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO) chief, Petteri Taalas, says "Thanks to early warnings and disaster management...catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history. Early warnings save lives."

The agency said improved early warning systems and coordinated disaster management had significantly reduced the human casualty toll.

Extreme weather, climate and water-related events caused 11,778 reported disasters between 1970 and 2021, new figures from the WMO show.

Those disasters killed just over two million people and caused $4.3 trillion in economic losses.

The report found that over 90 percent of reported deaths worldwide due to disasters over the 51-year-period occurred in developing countries.

WMO pointed out in a report issued two years ago that at the beginning of the period, the world was seeing more than 50,000 such deaths each year.

By the 2010s, the disaster death toll had dropped to below 20,000 annually.

And in its update of that report, WMO said Monday that 22,608 disaster deaths were recorded globally in 2020 and 2021 combined.

The UN has launched a plan to ensure all nations are covered by disaster early warning systems by the end of 2027.

Endorsing that plan figures among the top strategic priorities during a meeting of WMO's decision-making body, the World Meteorological Congress, which opens Monday.

To date, only half of countries have such systems in place.

"The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards," Taalas said in a statement.