Environmentalists have warned global warming would mean more people being killed by natural disasters, but new United Nations data shows deaths from natural disasters declined by 70 percent in 2015 relative to the average number of deaths of the previous 10 years.
“The U.N. reports that environmental disasters affected fewer people last year than the average of the 10 years prior,” Chip Knappenberger, a climate scientist at the libertarian Cato Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This, despite 2015 being the ‘warmest year on record’ and the regional impacts of a strong El Nino — which can be both negative and positive in terms of disasters.”
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction reported the number of people affected by natural disasters fell 43 percent when compared to the previous 10-year average. Despite the good news, the United Nations’ press release claimed the data showed the “human costs of the hottest year on record.”
The country most affected by natural disasters was North Korea, which listed more than 18 million people as affected.
“I hesitate to make too much of the U.N. numbers because they are not sufficiently standardized such that appropriate comparisons can be made over time—changing population size, changing population age structure, changing wealth patterns, etc., have a very large impact on the economics of — including the mortality from — environmental disasters,” Knappenberger said. “Investigations which have made effort to control for such changes find that environmental impacts have rapidly declined over the past century.”
The lighter damage was especially evident when considering storms. There were 996 fatalities in recorded storms last year, compared to an annual average of 17,778 from 2005 to 2014, according to preliminary data from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
Deaths from natural disasters sharply declined in the United States. Only 280 Americans were killed by natural disasters in 2015, which is dramatically below the 30-year annual average of 580 deaths.
Much of the decline is due to better forecasting and early warning systems which enable people to take shelter.