Over the years, the international scene has been filled with supranational organizations. To these must be added regional bodies: Latin American, African, European… Some of the most recent ones have scientific pretensions and their reports create a canon, as is the case in any religion. A document endorsed by an international body, such as the WHO, carries much more weight than any other, is reproduced more frequently and, if it is wrong, it is a nightmare to try to have the error corrected.
One such international scientific body is the WMO (World Meteorological Organization), which is under the spotlight today in connection with the report published at the end of August, entitled “World Atlas of Mortality and Economic Loss Caused by Weather, Climate and Water Phenomena” (*). In reality, international organizations, such as the WMO, do not produce anything themselves, but subcontract studies to third parties. In this case, the Atlas is the work of 12 authors, is endorsed by 6 reviewers and, of course, by the organization’s top management.
The theses follow the postmodern cliché that there are more and more natural disasters and they are becoming more and more serious, although the study is not based on any new source. All the figures used come from a database established over the years by Cred, an institute of the University of Leuven in Belgium. It is therefore a new study with old data.
Over the years, databases, such as Cred’s, are filling up. More and more institutions are reporting disasters, so it seems that there are more and more disasters. In the end, any meteorological event is a disaster. It’s a disaster when it rains lightly and it’s another disaster when it rains torrentially.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Cred reached 90 countries and in 2019 it will reach 120, but that is something that the World Atlas does not say anything about, so it is misleading.
The three parameters used by the WMO (number of events, number of fatalities, cost of damage) make no sense and neither does the gross number of disasters. Even the most absent-minded schoolchild knows that only homogeneous quantities can be added up. You cannot add a heat wave with a catastrophic flood to get two disasters.
A tropical cyclone country, such as the United States, classifies them in 6 different groups, which is not the case with the World Atlas.
It is preferable to use the number of deaths as an indicator because it is homogeneous, whatever the disaster, and can therefore be added up. But not all countries have reliable death records. The reliability of records is improving in many countries, so one should not compare the numbers killed by a tornado in 1970 with those of today.
Deaths pose another serious problem: proving that they were caused by the disaster. For example, the World Atlas considers the world’s deadliest weather disaster in the last 50 years to have been the 1983 drought in Ethiopia, which caused 300,000 deaths. But the drought coincided in time with a violent war against the progressive government that killed livestock, destroyed agricultural equipment, burned crops and systematically starved entire populations. The 300,000 deaths cannot, therefore, be attributed to the drought and, consequently, it may not have been the world’s worst disaster in the last fifty years.
The cost of the damage is another of the yardsticks used by the World Atlas, but it means leaving the meteorological terrain to go to the economic one, to prices and inflation. The WMO largely fails to even indicate this.
Over time, changes have occurred in each country. Some are demographic, others involve GDP growth and, finally, more and more measures against disasters are being implemented. Since 1975, which the Atlas takes as its initial reference, the world’s population has increased by 81 percent. If the frequency and violence of natural disasters had remained constant, the number of deaths would also have doubled. However, the number of deaths has decreased by 67 percent.
The cost of damage is a function of economic development, buildings, factories, bridges or crops. The more development, the more damage a flood or tornado will cause. The WMO Atlas does not mention this circumstance either.
Despite the sloppiness, the World Atlas agrees with the post-modern cliché of pseudo-scientific intimidation: the number of disasters will increase fivefold. It is the typical document intended for propaganda, media and to eat the heads of less attentive students.