January 13, 2011

Worst Environmental Stories of 2010


Overall picture of natural catastrophes in 2010 - Very severe earthquakes and many severe weather events


Several major catastrophes in 2010 resulted in substantial losses and an exceptionally high number of fatalities. The overall picture last year was dominated by an accumulation of severe earthquakes to an extent seldom experienced in recent decades. The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change. Altogether, a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded last year, nine-tenths of which were weather-related events like storms and floods. This total makes 2010 the year with the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980, markedly exceeding the annual average for the last ten years (785 events per year). The overall losses amounted to around US$ 130bn, of which approximately US$ 37bn was insured. This puts 2010 among the six most loss-intensive years for the insurance industry since 1980. The level of overall losses was slightly above the high average of the past ten years.
(...) In the summer, floods following extreme monsoon rainfall had devastating consequences in Pakistan. For weeks, up to one-quarter of the country was flooded. Countless people lost all their worldly possessions. The overall loss totalled US$ 9.5bn - an extremely high amount for Pakistan's emerging economy.A widescale catastrophe also resulted from the heatwave in Russia and neighbouring countries between July and September. Many places, including Moscow, experienced record temperatures. In some regions of central Russia, they exceeded 30°C for two months on end. Forests burned, with the fires threatening nuclear facilities and areas where the ground had been contaminated by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl. At least 56,000 people died as a result of heat and air pollution, making it the most deadly natural disaster in Russia's history.
(...) The hurricane season in the North Atlantic was benign - but only at first glance. Favourable weather patterns meant that the US coast was not hit by a single hurricane. In Mexico, however, a few storms caused substantial damage. Otherwise, the tropical cyclones turned away in a northeasterly direction over the sea, only grazing some islands in the Caribbean.But what appeared benign was, in terms of the number and intensity of the storms, one of the severest hurricane seasons of the past 100 years. Altogether, there were 19 named tropical cyclones, equalling the number recorded in 1995 and putting 2010 in joint third place after 2005 (28) and 1933 (21). Twelve of the storms attained hurricane strength, with five of these falling into the top hurricane categories (wind speeds over 178 km/h). This means the forecasts of various institutes about the number of storms turned out to be very accurate. "The number of storms was indeed well above average.
(...) The global distribution of natural catastrophes in 2010 was comparable to that of previous years. Most catastrophes occurred on the American continent (365) and in Asia (310). 120 natural catastrophes were recorded in Europe, 90 in Africa and 65 in Australia/Oceania.

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