Weather-related natural disasters have occurred throughout human history. Their frequency and intensity, however, have been on the rise in recent years and health professionals have taken notice.
According to a report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there were three times as many natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 as compared to 1980 through 1989. Dividing the events into two major categories, climate-related (storms, floods, heat-waves, etc.) and geophysical (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, etc.), the report found that 80% of the increase was due to a rising number of climate-related disasters.
The report explains, “During recent decades, the scale of disasters has expanded owing to increased rates of urbanization, deforestation, and environmental degradation and to intensifying climate variables such as higher temperatures, extreme precipitation, and more violent wind and water storms.” It also cautions that “natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change.”
Impacting nearly five billion people since 1990 (approximately 217 million people per year), each disaster has generated serious public health concerns including large numbers of fatalities, injuries, and the outbreak of disease.