• Droughts killed the most people of the world's most deadly weather-related disasters, the UN said.
  • A new report released on Tuesday highlights an increase in weather-related disasters but fewer deaths.
  • More than 90% of deaths occurred in developing countries.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Droughts are the leading cause of death from the world's worst disasters in the last 50 years, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization released on Tuesday.

The UN agency's report, which considered more than 11,000 weather disasters over the past half-century, highlighted four specific droughts that occurred in eastern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s as the leading killers. In all, droughts killed 650,000 people. The next biggest cause of death from disasters was storms, with more than 575,000 deaths.

Disasters related to weather, climate, or water hazards happen five times more often now than they did in the 1970s, but the deaths they cause have decreased significantly, the report said.

The 1970s and 1980s saw an average of 170 deaths per day, which fell to 90 in the 1990s. In the 2010s, there were 40 deaths per day related to weather disasters.

More than 90% of the deaths occurred in developing counties, the report said.

Meanwhile, economic damage stemming from these disasters has increased seven-fold over the last 50 years, according to the report. The six costliest disasters were all the result of hurricanes in the US, racking up more than R7 trillion in economic losses combined.

"The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change," WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a statement. "That means more heatwaves, drought and forest fires such as those we have observed recently in Europe and North America. We have more water vapor in the atmosphere, which is exacerbating extreme rainfall and deadly flooding. The warming of the oceans has affected the frequency and area of existence of the most intense tropical storms."

He said the global community has become better at saving lives due to improved multi-hazard early warning systems, despite only half of the 193-member countries of the WMO actually having these systems.

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