Heavy rains over the past two weeks have caused severe flooding and landslides in the Philippines, killing at least 540 people. Flooding in India caused a reported 250 deaths and displaced millions. In 2008, Hurricane Nargis killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Climate change has quadrupled the number of natural disasters over the past 20 years. As global greenhouse gas emissions increase (click here to read “Climate Change Accelerates,”) the frequency and severity of natural disasters, including hurricanes, cyclones, severe storms, floods, landslides and avalanches, are also increasing (click here to read “Weather-related Disasters Dominate.”)

Climate change will worsen the intensity and effects of natural disasters

Climate change will worsen the intensity and effects of natural disasters

Natural disasters not only affect the physical environment, but also social, political, economic and even security aspects (click here to read “The Security Dimensions of Climate Change.”) Socio-economic factors may exacerbate destruction from natural disasters. Deforestation, for example, may worsen and even promote the occurrence of landslides, flooding and erosion. Overall, it has become clear that less developed, highly populated countries are more prone to risks of natural disasters. Poor people have fewer resources to cope with natural disasters and are therefore the worst affected. It is also a fact that women are disproportionately affected by natural disasters due to a lack of social and economic rights (click here to read “Women and Climate Change.”)

Wednesday is the United Nations’ International Day for Disaster Reduction, to promote awareness and advocate disaster prevention. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are crucial in reducing the frequency of natural disasters and improving human and environmental resilience to its effects. Climate change is not only a future reality, its consequences – the Earth has already warmed by 0.7 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution – can be felt today, and ever more quickly than previously projected. Countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives are campaigning for their “right to survive” and Inuit communities in the Arctic are already being displaced. As Copenhagen nears, natural disasters demonstrate in a dramatic way why it is so important to “seal the deal.”

Click here to purchase the articles highlighted above, including the 2009 edition of Vital Signs, and 2009 State of the World.

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bangladesh, hurricane nargis, India, natural disasters, philippines