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World Disasters Report 2020: The need to build better and protect communities from the increasing threat of disasters

17 November 2020

A new Red Cross report is urging global action to protect communities facing increasing risks of climate-related disasters.

The World Disasters Report 2020, “Come Heat or High Water: Tackling the Humanitarian Impacts of the Climate Crisis Together”, reveals that nearly 100 million people around the globe were affected by climate-related disasters in 2019 alone.

This includes more than 14,000 people impacted by wildfires in 2019 – more than half of them in Australia, where 19.4 million hectares were burnt during the worst bushfire season on record.

“The threat of such disasters is already high, and will only grow higher, so everyone – humanitarian groups, governments, climate experts and society at large – needs to focus on disaster-risk reduction and support communities around the world to adapt to the impacts of climate change,” said Kym Pfitzner, interim CEO of Australian Red Cross.

“This report urges governments to design investments, including via COVID-19 stimulus packages, to support resilient and inclusive societies where major infrastructure – everything from schools and aged-care facilities through to seawalls and power plants – is designed to withstand future climate and weather extremes.”

“Many communities in Australia and around the world are being affected by concurrent and consecutive crises, including our own experience of bushfires and COVID-19 in Australia, leaving them with little time to recover before the next shock arrives. There is so much to be done to help people to adapt to the realities of the changing climate, by reducing risks, and building community resilience.”

While the risks are global, Australia is being impacted. Over the course of the past decade, Australia suffered 32 natural disasters – more than double the global average of 15.

But other countries in our region have been more affected. Asia accounted for 46 per cent of all disasters recorded in the past decade.

The World Disasters Report finds the international community needs to be doing more to help vulnerable communities become safer and more resilient to future disasters.

It reveals US$50 billion a year is needed to help 50 developing countries, many of which are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, adapt and protect communities from disasters over the next decade. To put that into perspective, the total financial impact of weather-related disasters around the world over the past decade is estimated to be as high as US$1.92 trillion.

More than 300 natural disasters are estimated to have had a total financial impact of US$39 billion in 2019 alone.

“The frequency and intensity of natural disasters are increasing substantially, with more category 4 and 5 storms, more heatwaves breaking temperature records and more heavy rains, among many other extremes. We've seen the impacts of this in Southeast Asia in recent weeks. We need to scale up forecast measures to enhance our planning and inform forecast-based action,” said Michael Annear, International Director, Australian Red Cross.

“Communities that are the most exposed and vulnerable to climate risks should be our first priority. We need to urgently scale up planning for disasters and support these communities so that they can prepare more effectively for disasters and expand existing community resilience.”

The World Disasters Report is produced by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It includes comprehensive disaster data and analysis on disaster management.

World Disasters Report 2020 in numbers

  • 308 disasters were triggered by natural hazards in 2019 
  • These affected 97.6 million people 
  • 24,396 people were killed in those disasters
  • 14,550 people were affected by wildfires worldwide in 2019 with more than half of them – 9510 – in Australia
  • More than 15,000 fires burnt 19.4m hectares in Australia last summer – the most destructive season on record. Tragically 34 people died and more than 3,000 homes were destroyed
  • In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 100 disasters have occurred which affected over 50 million people.

For media inquiries, or more information, contact 1800 733 443 or media@redcross.org.au