By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) – The devastating tropical cyclone in southern Africa serves a stark reminder that an overwhelming majority of natural disasters over the past two decades have been related to water, UN agencies said on Tuesday.
“Almost 75% of all disasters were water-related in the past 20 years, with at least 1.6 billion people affected by floods and 1.4 billion by droughts, and economic damage incurred of almost $700 billion,” Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said at a news conference in Geneva.
The impacts of climate change are often felt through water, she said, citing droughts, extreme flooding, erratic rainfall, and accelerated melting of glaciers as examples.
“And yet, for too long, water has been a ‘blindspot’ in climate talks and does not receive the necessary urgent priority in sustainable development and disaster risk reduction efforts,” she said.
The WMO and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) were co-chairing a meeting aimed at accelerating action to ensure worldwide provision of early warning systems by 2027.
Nullis said an advisory panel will be set up for the purpose, which would have leaders of UN agencies, multilateral development banks, humanitarian organizations, civil society, insurance, and IT companies.
“The aim is to inject more political, technological, and financial clout to ensure that Early Warnings for All becomes a reality for everyone, everywhere,” she said.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and other partners are spearheading the initiative with the WMO and UNDRR, she added.
“Cyclone Freddy, the recent tropical cyclone in southeastern Africa, once again shows the paramount importance of these services to save lives and livelihoods from increasingly extreme weather and climate events,” said Nullis.
The cyclone has claimed more than 560 lives in Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar over past weeks, according to official figures.
It has been designated as a tropical cyclone for more than 40 days, crossed the entire South Indian Ocean, and traveled more than 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles).
Earlier in March, the WMO set up an expert committee to evaluate whether Cyclone Freddy had broken the record for the longest-lasting tropical cyclone.