Weather disasters have quadrupled in 20 years


A new study, “Climate Alarm: Disasters increase as climate change bites,” by Oxfam International finds:

Climatic disasters are on the increase as the Earth warms up — in line with scientific observations and computer simulations that model future climate. 2007 has been a year of climatic crises, especially floods, often of an unprecedented nature. They included Africa’s worst floods in three decades, unprecedented flooding in Mexico, massive floods in South Asia and heat waves and forest fires in Europe, Australia, and California. By mid November the United Nations had launched 15 ‘flash appeals’, the greatest ever number in one year. All but one were in response to climatic disasters.

This is no shock to Climate Progress readers, but we all need to remember that this is a human tragedy (and it is going to get much, much worse if we don’t reverse emissions trends within the decade), as the Oxfam study reports in its summary:

At the same time as climate hazards are growing in number, more people are being affected by them because of poverty, powerlessness, population growth, and the movement and displacement of people to marginal areas. The total number of natural disasters has quadrupled in the last two decades — most of them floods, cyclones, and storms. Over the same period the number of people affected by disasters has increased from around 174 million to an average of over 250 million a year. Small- and medium-scale disasters are occurring more frequently than the kind of large-scale disasters that hit the headlines.

Oxfam offers a variety of useful recommendations here.

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25 Responses to Weather disasters have quadrupled in 20 years

  1. I just completed a brief review of dam disasters, near disasters and potential disasters. What are the odds that a 62 dam flood control system would be subjected to an every 2000 year flood event less that twenty years after it was constructed? In light of the anticipated increase in major flooding events, the 1975 failure of 62 Huai River dams in China raise questions about dam safety everywhere in the world. Over a three day period in August 1975 an unusual set of circumstances led to the over toping of of two large dams as well as their subsequent failure. The resulting flood was responsible for the death of over 200,000 people. What would happen if a similar rain event struck the watershed of the Three Gorges Dam.

    It should be noted that in 1983, unusually heavy rains raised the water level on Powell Reservoir to the level of the Glen Canyon Dam spillway. Engineers observed to their horror that with only a small amount of water flowing through the spillway, the spillway was rapidly eroding it and that the dam itself was shaking from the force. Engineers saved the dam by blocking the spillway with plywood, something that might not work the next time.

  2. paul m says:

    It seems like these events have quadrupled in the last 2 not 20 yrs!

  3. hippie with a pistol says:

    natural disasters quadrupled in last 20 years? you don’t mention that tectonics have killed thousands more than climate related events and drought according to oxfam’s source, reliefweb.

    climate progress alarmists also ignore the paleoclimate record that shows that recent WEATHER events are well within natural variability. climate change is nothing new on the african continent:

    Zonneveld et al. (1997) note that the upwelling indicators of monsoon strength off the coast of Somalia suggest that the summer monsoon became much more powerful around 12,500 14C y.a.. This corresponds in time to the general change in vegetation cover on the African continent.

    In east Africa, very moist conditions caused the overflow of Lake Victoria northwards into the Nile at about 12,500 – 11,500 14C y.a. (Paulisson 1989). Again, this might also have reflected a lack of vegetation cover (allowing greater runoff) rather than much higher-than-present rainfall, although this is uncertain. However, montane forest in the mountains had not yet returned, perhaps to lags in ecological succession processes (Hamilton 1988). In Malawi, a river channel cutting stage that is interpreted as the result of moister conditions begins around 12,000 14C y.a. (work by Meadows 1985, cited in Thomas & Thorp 1992).


    The indicators cited above for 8,000 years ago also seem to indicate moister, more forested conditions than at present at 5,000 years ago. North of the equator at least, monsoon rains were still much greater than at present (though diminished relative to 8,000 years ago), as shown by the Saharan evidence. From the fact that more Podocarpus pollen than at present is seen in several pollen diagrams before about 5,000 years ago, Hamilton & Taylor (1991) suggest that the climates were still moister than at present.

  4. Ron says:


    Weather-related disasters are increasing, not due to so-called global warming, but because more and more millions of people are building and living in susceptible areas, and infrastructure like dikes and dams are not always built, repaired and maintained as they should be. Katrina is an example of this. Flooding in New Orleans is nothing new. The recent flooding in Mexico is another example. The Mexican government knew all along that there was a disaster just waiting to happen, but they failed to complete a levee project that could have prevented the catastrophe. And how is the infrastructure in places like Sudan and southeast Asia, hmmm?


    You completed a very brief overview indeed of the Chinese dam disaster.

    The system of dams was (intended to be) designed to handle a 1000-year event, not the 2000-year event they recieved. Cracks appeared in the uppermost dam before it was even completed, due to serious errors in engineering and construction, and the dam was ‘repaired’ with advice from the Soviets – Let’s remember that communists, and governments in general, are not known for their engineering skills (You know about that, don’t you Joe? You used to work for the government). Also, the original (albeit Communist) engineer for the project had called for 12 sluice gates, but the number was scaled back to 5 to save money. Other dams in the system also saw similar scalebacks in safety features. Some of the downstream dams were never even intended to handle more than 100 to 500-year events (see my quip about Communist engineers above).

    Then, with the heavy rainfall, came a new series of human errors – Communication problems; an initial refusal to open the (inadequate) sluice gates; opening some gates too much or too late; and some dams were even destroyed by airstrikes in silly and useless efforts to avert disaster! The result was like a series of dominos collapsing; not from an overheated planet, but because stupid people planned and built the things.

    Sorry, Charlie. You can’t blame that one on carbon dioxide. But good effort at propagating the propaganda….

  5. Dano says:

    I like how denialists must bolster their arguments with 15 year old papers.



  6. Joe says:

    Indeed. Check out the links in the post for plenty of science behind the statement that global warming is driving an increase in extreme weather events.

  7. Ron says:

    Which of my statements do you say is false?

  8. Ron, You failed to pay attention what I said. But What can one expect from a global warming skeptic. did not offer any account of a relationship between CO2 and the 1975 Chinese floods. My observation was that it is unlikely that a real 2000 year event would have happened only 20 years after the dams were built. I built on this argument by suggesting that if global warming increases extreme weather events, then we probably can expect more events like that in China in 1975, The Chinese Dam designs were flawed, and their construction was less than perfect, The Chinese, given difficult choices in 1975, made some bad choices too. But at the end of the day, the entire system would still have been destroyed, given the amount of water the Chinese were facing.

    I will defer to Texas climate scientist on questions related to the effects of CO2 on climates. A recent search of Texas Universities revealed that there are no climate scientist in Texas who agree with the skeptics point of view. I will also accept the views if real climate scientists on the effects of global warming on extreme weather events.

  9. Ron says:

    Well then, Charles, I guess I don’t fully understand your point. Since your comment followed the Oxfam propaganda piece that Joe posted, I thought that was where you were going.

    What are the odds of the big rain event happening less than 20 years after construction was completed?

    I don’t know how one would figure the odds, but in retrospect I’d have to say the chances of the rains coming and the dams failing were exactly 100% for each. And I guess you’re saying (allow me to paraphrase) that when large rain events occur, regardless of ‘global warming’, poorly constructed or maintained dams often fail. If that was the core of your point, then I must agree with you.

    As to your inability to find a Texas-based skeptic, I just have to ask “So?”

    Does that prove the AGW hypothesis to you? Are you one of the ‘science by a show of hands’ crowd? If so, you were born several centuries too late.

  10. hippie with a pistol says:

    Charles, the 1983 event at Glenn Canyon was not due to unusually heavy rains with flows at about 120000 cfs. Flows have been as high as 500000 cfs in the past 200 years and as much as 1000000 cfs in the past 200 years. More likely design flaws, sedimentation and erosion at bedrock caused the near failure. Shame on you for linking an event well within natural variability to co2 cliimate change.

  11. hippie, Jeeze-Loooooouise, you climate change skeptics cannot read. I did not say that the Glen Canyon Dam incident was in any way caused by climate change. I was pointing to the dangers posed by an increased frequency of extreme climate events. My post here was based on a comparison between nuclear safety, and the safety of dams in my blog:

    Now as to the cause of the Glen Canyon near disaster. Steve Hannon. in the “Hidden Passage” chapter “The 1983 Flood at Glen Canyon” states:
    “In early May 1983 the Bureau found itself with too much water in Powell Reservoir. Winter had lingered unusually long and cold in much of the high country, and the government’s runoff modeling was, to be kind, inaccurate. Then it suddenly turned warm and rain began to fall over much of the 108,000 square mile basin above the reservoir.”

    In “RECLAIMING THE CANYON:The River is Waiting,” Dave Wegner states:

    “In 1983 we found out that dam was in fact quite vulnerable and was not as solid as many had thought or wished. In the spring of 1983, in a year quite similar to the spring of 1998 the Upper Colorado River watershed was saturated from fall rains, high El Nino driven snowpack and a reservoir system that was near full. As the runoff started in March late season snows and then warm rains added more water. The high runoff caught Reclamation off guard – runoff like this was not part of the historical data base.”

    My argument then is about problems with dam safety, and the dangers of dam failures caused by extreme rain events. Your arguments have no relevance to that question.

  12. Dano says:

    climate progress alarmists also ignore the paleoclimate record that shows that recent WEATHER events are well within natural variability. climate change is nothing new on the african continent:

    Having to call widdle namie-names aside, Hippie denialists have missed the point – one of Joe’s and Charles’ points is that our societies are becoming increasingly more vulnerable. This is reinforced by a recent Colorado drought and in analyzing the societal response, Roger Pielke Sr said:

    “The magnification of the impacts, therefore, with respect to the actual precipitation deficit indicates Colorado society is now more vulnerable to short-term drought than in the past. This sobering message is the one the policy makers need to digest and react to.”

    Pielke Sr. R.A. et al. 2005. Drought 2002 in Colorado: An Unprecedented Drought or a Routine Drought? Pure Appl. Geophys. 162:8-9 pp. 1455-1479

    Note the use of recent citations and not old, outdated sources.



  13. Ben says:

    Has anyone ever tried the “ignore them and they’ll go away” thing with the trolls here? Feeding the trolls is never a good idea.

  14. Joe says:

    They are more well-meaning than most. They do actually read the posts….

  15. Ron says:

    Thanx Joe! I assume you are referring to me as a well-meaning troll.

    BTW – When I lose our bet about Al Gore running for president, I’d like to come meet you if possible to pay you the dollar, as well as buy you lunch. If I win the bet, I’ll still buy lunch, but you’ll have to leave the tip. Where are you located anyway? It’s probably getting about time for a family road trip ….

  16. Joe says:

    The nation’s capital….

  17. Ron says:

    Been there 20 years ago or so. Prowled around the mall for a few days. Always intended to take my kids someday. I’m always a bit nervous in cities where the normal humans don’t carry guns, but it’s a place the kids ought to see.

  18. Joe says:

    “Normal humans”? Who are those? Conservatives? Libertarians.
    I’m nervous in cities where a lot of people carry guns. You know the places. Baghdad, Gaza, and, of course, Liberty City, San Andreas, and Vice City–not that I’ve ever been any of those places….

  19. Ron says:

    Normal humans – the vast majority of us who are law abiding, non-violent folks, who sometimes need protection from the minority who ARE violent.

    Ever been to Phoenix? Considering it’s the 6th largest metropolitan area in the US, it has a relatively low crime rate. And I believe the proliferation of firearms has something to do with that. I don’t think it’s just the heat that makes people mellow.

    I live in AZ (not actually Phoenix), and we have lots of people in this state with concealed-carry permits, and you can still open-carry without a permit. I see people every day at the grocery store or the gas station with a sidearm in plain view. It seems to reduce the number of carjackings, home invasions, and such. It’s tough to force Granny out of her car if she’s packing a 9mm!

    When you play Grand Theft Auto, do the people you carjack ever come out shooting?

    As the immortal Marion Barry once said, “Outside of the killings, DC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” Um, okay ….

    I just threw out that quip about guns, however, because of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear the case of the DC gun ban. I’d like to point out to the justice’s that the right to bear arms isn’t just about having a militia: The right to self-defense is rooted in the most basic right of all, the right to life.

  20. Joe says:

    Never played GTA, but I try to keep the blog topical :)
    (Thank goodness for Wikipedia.)

  21. Ron says:

    To be honest, I don’t know what GTA is; I’m not a golfer. But I guess AZ is a big golf state. If you ever visit, maybe I could show you around a bit. I’m about 20 minutes from what I believe is the oldest public course in the country. You might enjoy that. Cool little town, too. Plus you’d love Jerome, and Sedona of course. I could show you some very cool Native American ruins – we have the highest concentration of such ruins in North America (I can see some from my front porch and my neighborhood is irrigated by a 2000-year-old ditch). Also, being a gambling man, you’d likely enjoy our casino (We have a reservation here in town) – voted best in AZ for 7 years straight!

    We have celebrities too! Ted Danson and his wife Mary live in Sedona by the Circle-K store, for instance, and the sextuplets (world-famous, right?) go to my church. Bruce Springsteen occasionally rides into Jerome when he’s out and about for a brewski.

    And I guarantee you won’t get carjacked or worry if your kid is out in the street playing b-ball after dark. I rarely even lock my doors. You might never leave when you see how the ‘normal’ people live …..

  22. Joe says:

    GTA = Grand Theft Auto. I was just replying to your comment.

    I do like Texas Hold ’em. Don’t play golf, just admire Tiger Woods

  23. Dano says:

    Just what I want protecting my children: crossfire!



  24. Ron says:

    Ah, Grand Theft Auto. Too funny. I’m such a dork. I don’t play video games either, but I’ve seen GTA. I won’t let my kids anywhere near it.

    The casino has cards. Bowling, too, which is what we go for sometimes; or concerts once in a while.

    Dano: Sounds like you don’t like guns. That’s fine; I just hope you never find yourself in a position of needing one. Remember: when seconds count, the police are just minutes away!

    Also, self-defense aside, shooting is a fun, healthy outdoor sport (although, that may not be possible where you live). And hunting is a big part of the culture around here too, although I’m not much of a hunter myself. There’s no better way to put organicly-grown meat on your family’s table.

  25. James Molloy says:

    You would imagine that Dam infrastructure in Australia is safe – however our experience on the Burrum River in QLD shows just how easy it is to become a fatality when Dam Infrastructure fails.
    Gates constructed in December 2007 at Lenthalls Dam on the heavily impounded Burrum River failed to lower to release flood water as designed in Febuary 2008.
    Wide Bay Water was the constructing authority and responsible for the design and operation of the dam gate infrastructure.
    Our upstream farm house, where the tributaries join the dam proper was cut of when flood water continued to back up much higher than the constructing authority Wide Bay Water had predicted the water levels would ever go.
    Three family members were stuck at our farm house. The emergency evacuation plan found in the Lenthalls Dam Emergency Action Plan called for evacuation after water levels reached RL26.91 – water levels reached 27.4 at the dam wall flowing over the blocked gates and backed up to RL28.5 at our house. No one evacuated the famuily members stranded in rising water.
    No one from the constructing authority Wide Bay Water contacted us to undertake evacuation or explain the risk we faced due to Crest Gate Failure.
    We believe the CEO Tim Waldron was overseas at conference when the event happed. The Operations manuals for the dam place responsibilty with the CEO as does the action plan. He has not been called to account for his failure to take responsible action to ensure an evacuation would occur in his abscence if required.

    If the rain event had not stopped the three people cut off at our flood impacted farm house would have been inundated by metres of water.

    We heard about the dam failure from other locals close to the dam wall who had heard the gates have failed – we now have full evidence to verify the dam gate failure.

    What our situation highlights is that while most fatalities from failed dams and failed dam infrastructure have occurred in the countries of the south ie third world the west is not imune from dam infrastructure failure.

    The capacity of first world dam operators to manage infrastructure/ risk and operational and human failure is not consistent.
    We were very lucky the rain event that caused the flooding to back up over the failed dam gate, stopped.
    It is however only a matter of time before a dam infrastructure failure in the first world causes fatalities.
    We feel that maybe operational and human failures that have occured without fatality have been coverd up and are not generally reported or researched.
    It is likely constructing authorities keep these instances quiet.
    Please see the small news article that did report the event ( not comprehensively).

    See the article:
    Resident fears dam gates risk flooding
    Posted Wed May 21, 2008 8:26am AEST
    Updated Wed May 21, 2008 8:25am AEST
    • Map: Hervey Bay 4655
    A land-holder upstream of a major dam south-west of Hervey Bay says multi-million dollar barriers on the storage are broken, putting her family at risk of flooding.
    Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas will officially open the $16 million project at Lenthalls Dam, which is designed to more than double the storage’s capacity.
    In what is claimed to be an Australian first, the two metre high crest gates sink when the dam reaches capacity to prevent flooding upstream and provide for environmental flows.
    But Esther Allan says in February the gates jammed, causing water to back up onto her property.
    “This is an extremely expensive piece of infrastructure. Ratepayers paid for this and their expectation would be that it would be operable,” she said.
    “If it wasn’t, we need to know why – not only because our family’s safety was put at risk, but because ratepayers expect to get a result from the infrastructure they pay for.”
    The local government corporation that runs Lenthalls Dam says the gates do not work, but it was monitoring the rising water.
    Wide Bay Water general manager David Wiskar says adjustments were needed during the dam’s commissioning and are continuing.
    “The gates were all needing some fine-tuning. At the moment we were able to complete that tuning on three of the gates,” he said.
    “There’s two that remain to be done, but we’re waiting until the level in the dam falls to an adequate level to [do] those final two.”
    The Lenthalls Dam Gates are still not fully operational today September 2008 and heading into the QLD summer flood season.

    We can evidence what we are saying.
    We dont have too much faith that any government authority will maintain our saftey, and our economy is currently healthy and well economically resourced.

    Infrastructure once built needs to be operable ongoing through good economic times and bad.

    Climate Change will continue to place increased pressure on infrastructure in Australia the frequency of extreme storm and weather events will be a counterpoint to extreme drought.

    If the infrastructure cannot be managed safely now – those who live in areas affected by damming have much to worry about as climate change will increase the risks posed by failed infrastructure.

    The risks remain for all of those who live on dammed river systems.