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More extreme weather in poorer countries

Massive flooding throughout Southern Sudan, October 2007. has caused widespread displacement and destroyed crops and homes across the region. While some of the floods have begun to recede, they effects will be felt for the coming year as many communities
(Tim McKulka/UNMIS)

Developing countries top a 2008 Climate Risk Index released in the Indonesian island of Bali, where the United Nations climate change conference is taking place.

The index shows that less developed countries often suffer more from storms, floods and extreme weather than industrialised countries, according to Germanwatch, the development non-governmental organisation that produced the study.

The findings of the index should give impetus to the negotiations in Bali to draw up a new climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time draw attention to helping poorer countries adapt to the effects of climate change, said Sven Harmeling, senior advisor on climate and development at Germanwatch.

Munich Reinsurance, one of the world's biggest insurance companies, provided the data for the study, based on weather events in 2006.

The insurance company, along with the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security, the World Bank, the UK-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and India's Tata Energy Research Institute, also launched an initiative at the conference to raise funds for climate insurance for the poor in the developing countries.

Thomas Loster, managing director of the Munich Reinsurance Foundation, said climate-risk insurance was an important tool for helping the poor adapt to climate change. "The Munich Climate Insurance Initiative was officially presented to the conference and, subject to endorsement, will seek to raise money from industrialised countries to underwrite insurance for the affected poor in the developing countries."

The World Bank noted in its flagship report in 2007 that the lack of subsidies or at least start-up costs, had prevented several pilot initiatives to reduce uninsured risks in smallholder agriculture from taking off.

The Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Korea and Indonesia top the 2006 Climate Risk Index list, while Honduras, Nicaragua and Bangladesh get the top three slots on a list ranking the impact of extreme weather events from 1997 to 2006.

"Extreme weather events play an important role not only in climate-change science, but also in public discussions about the impacts and consequences of global warming," said the Risk Index study.

The index was compiled using data on four indicators: total number of deaths, deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, losses in million US$ of purchasing power parities, and losses per unit of Gross Domestic Product.

Numerous events in 2007, like the large-scale flooding in the Sahel or the devastating cyclone in Bangladesh, have "reminded the world of the necessity to prepare for disasters and mitigate the long-term consequences of climate change", said Germanwatch's Harmeling.

"The 10 natural disasters with the highest number of victims in 2007 occurred in poor countries," Loster confirmed. "There was only one among them that was not due to weather events. Climate change entails more frequent weather extremes, and poor people are particularly vulnerable."

Although an individual extreme event cannot be linked directly to man-made climate change, the study pointed out that the likelihood of occurrence increased with rising temperatures.

The scientific community have advised a 25 to 40 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avoid a rise of two degrees Celsius in the global temperature.

That kind of warming is expected to destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species, with bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves, floods and droughts.

The Bali negotiations will try to work towards a new deal for cuts after 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

The Protocol is a commitment made in 1997 by 36 industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least five percent against a 1990 baseline, and forms part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This is an international environmental treaty produced at the Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The treaty is aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to combat global warming.

The 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events in 2006

1. Philippines
2. Democratic Republic of Korea
3. Indonesia
4. Vietnam
5. Ethiopia
6. India
7. China
8. Afghanistan
9. United States
10. Romania

The 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events from 1997 to 2006

1. Honduras
2. Nicaragua
3. Bangladesh
4. Vietnam
5. Dominican Republic
6. Haiti
7. India
8. Venezuela
9. France
10. Germany

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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