Typhoon Koppu
Residents wade through floodwaters in Candaba town, Pampanga province. Floods, heat waves, droughts, storms – all such natural disasters linked with climate change have claimed over half a million lives Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Floods, heat waves, droughts, storms – all such natural disasters linked with climate change - have claimed as many as 606,000 lives in the past 20 years. Detailing the devastating impact of global warming, a report by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction suggests that weather-related disasters will only worsen in the coming decades.

The UN agency recorded an average of 335 weather-related disasters between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. According to the report, 4.1 billion people were injured, left homeless or were in need of emergency assistance as a result of weather-related disasters between 1995 and 2015. About 332,000 deaths occurred and 3.7 billion people were affected in Asia alone.

Floods and storms accounted for the majority of deaths due to weather-related natural disasters. "Floods accounted for 47% of all weather-related disasters from 1995-2015, affecting 2.3 billion people and killing 157,000. Storms were the deadliest type of weather-related disaster, accounting for 242,000 deaths or 40% of the global weather-related deaths, with 89% of these deaths occurring in lower-income countries," the report said.

Extreme temperatures as a result of global warming caused deaths of about 164,000 people, of which 148,000 deaths, about 92%, were caused due to heat waves; 90% of the deaths from heat waves occurred in Europe alone.

Europe heat wave

According to the World Health Organization, in the heat wave during the summer of 2003 in Europe, more than 70, 000 deaths were recorded. "Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people," it said in a statement.

The UN report on loss of lives from climate-related disasters has been released a week ahead of COP21, the12-day climate change conference which will begin in Paris on 30 November. According to the UN, the report underlines "why it is so important that a new climate change agreement emerges from the COP21 in Paris in December".

In the report, scientists have warned that climate change will increase the numbers of floods, storms, wildfires and droughts. "It is likely that extreme wildfires will become more and more frequent as a result of climate change as unusually high temperatures and droughts contribute to the increasing numbers of outbreaks."

The report suggests that better risk management and mitigation could reduce death tolls and other heavy losses from these predictable hazards.