Extreme tornadoes in the United States over Christmas, abnormal snowfalls in Mexico, and heavy flooding in South America and the United Kingdom show that governments must take more preventive action to reduce human and economic losses from weather-related disasters, a senior United Nations official warned today.
“Prevention measures including upgrading early warning systems to deal with the new climate variability, revising building codes to ensure more resilience of critical infrastructure such as schools, hospital and roads, and more investment in flood defences are critical to protect more people against disaster impacts,” said Margareta Wahlström, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
“We have no time to lose as weather-related disasters continue to increase, affecting millions of people.” Over the weekend, tornadoes and storms killed more than 20 people in the US states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois, and flattened hundreds of buildings and houses.
“More people are at risk due to increased urbanization,” Ms. Wahlström said. “Reducing spatial density of single family housing and increasing the resilience of houses against heavier wind load can reduce tornado impacts.”
Meanwhile, the intense floods in South America are considered the worst in the past 10 years, forcing more than 170,000 people to evacuate in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. “The abnormal flooding is consistent with the prediction made by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) last November. We cannot ignore science. Their findings need to be better included in long-term policies,” Ms. Wahlström added.
Last month, WMO warned that the majority of international climate outlook models indicated that the 2015-16 El Niño weather phenomenon was set to strengthen before the end of the year, causing more flooding and more droughts, setting it among the three strongest since 1950.
The phenomenon, characterized by a warming of the Pacific Ocean, is also triggering a rise in drought in different parts of the Americas, sparking the worst droughts in decades in Central America and Haiti, and that they will continue into 2016. In Mexico, snowfall over the weekend blanketed 32 towns in the state of Chihuahua, with some places hit by accumulations of 30 centimetres and temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius.
Further afield, December has seen communities in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire in the UK swamped by rising waters with damages that could exceed £1.5 billion according to financial analysts. “The repetitive floods in the UK and unusual snowstorms in Mexico are alerting the world about how difficult it is to predict global warming impacts and climate change,” Ms. Wahlström said.