Extreme Weather Cost Billions Worldwide in 2020, Says Study

As if the pandemic wasn't enough, 2020 also struck us with financial costs and loss of life due to extreme weather.
Christopher McFadden

Extreme weather in 2020 caused huge financial losses and loss of human life, according to a report by Christian Aid. Chalked up to "Climate Change", experts believe things will only get worse in the future. 


2020 was very costly

Christian Aid's recent study lists 10 extreme weather events in 2020 that cost thousands in human lives and millions in insurance payouts. Six of these ten occurred in Asia alone, with floods in China and India causing in excess of $40 billion in damage. 

The study also noted that hurricanes and wildfires caused somewhere in the region of $60 billion in damage in the U.S. too in 2020.

.extreme weather 2020 wildfires
Source: Oliver Knight/iStock

The list of ten events ranged in cost from at least $1.5 billion, with nine others individually exceeding $5 billion each. 

But such events are not just about the financial costs that they incur. Human lives in the places affected were also severely impacted. 

For example, an unusually rainy monsoon season in Asia resulted in some of the most damaging storms in living memory. Over a period of a few months in 2020, heavy flooding in India resulted in more than 2,000 deaths, with millions of others displaced from their homes. 

China was also badly affected by these storms, with damages running up to $32 billion between June and October of 2020. The death toll, thankfully, appears to have been much less than for India.

Swarms of locusts also plagued Africa this year, resulting in $8.5 billion in lost and ruined crops and other vegetation. 

2020 extreme weather flooding
Source: shelly-jo/Flickr

It is important to note, however, that Christian Aid does stress that its figures are estimates, and are likely to be underestimated. It is also important to understand that richer countries with more valuable real estate will see larger damages than poorer ones even for smaller events. 

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But these are relatively "slow-moving" disaster events. The study also highlights some of the more dramatic extreme weather events too. 

For example, Cyclone Amphan, which it the Bay of Bengal in May 2020, caused an estimated $13 billion in just a few days. 

"We saw record temperatures in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, straddling between 30C-33C," Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, told the BBC.

"These high temperatures had the characteristics of marine heatwaves that might have led to the rapid intensification of the pre-monsoon cyclones Amphan and Nisarga," he added.

extreme weather hurricane
Source: NASA Worldview/(EOSDIS)

South Sudan was also badly hit by floods, with 138 people killed and an entire year's crops completely devastated. 

Will 2021 be better or worse?

While not all experts agreed, international bodies like the United Nations have pegged the blame on climate change. Heavy rains in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa in recent years is, for example, the main cause of Africa's locust plague this year.

"Just like 2019 before it, 2020 has been full of disastrous extremes," said Dr. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, from the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia in an interview with the BBC.

"We have seen all this with a 1C of global average temperature rise, highlighting the sensitive relationship between average conditions and extremes."

It is these extreme weather events that will likely get worse going into the future. 2021 is, sadly, anticipated to be at least as extreme as 2020 but will likely be worse from an extreme weather standpoint. 

extreme weather monsoon
Source: SE Photography/iStock

To this end, many experts hope that political leaders will finally sit up and take action in the coming years to help mitigate the worst impacts of extreme weather. 

"It is vital that 2021 ushers in a new era of activity to turn this climate change tide," said report author, Dr. Kat Kramer, from Christian Aid.

You can read the full Christian Aid study here

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