GENEVA • Weather-related disasters in the past two decades have killed more than 600,000 people and inflicted economic losses estimated at trillions of dollars, the United Nations has said, adding that the frequency and impact of such events were set to rise.
The warning comes before a UN-backed climate change meeting starting next Monday in Paris.
Separately, Unicef has warned that hundreds of millions of children are highly exposed to the impacts of climate change, with more than 500 million living in extremely flood-prone areas, the vast majority in Asia.
In addition, nearly 160 million children live in parts of the world that suffer from severe drought, over half of them in Africa, and more than 115 million are in places at high or extremely high risk of tropical cyclones, Unicef added.
The report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, released on Monday, said the United States has suffered the highest number of weather-related disasters in the past two decades, but China and India have been the most severely affected, with their populations enduring massive floods.
As well as killing hundreds of thousands of people, weather-related disasters injured 4.1 billion others and inflicted economic costs well in excess of US$1.9 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) over the two decades, the report found.
The UN office recorded an average of 335 weather-related disasters every year over the two decades, double the level in the previous 10 years. The report counted events that had killed 10 or more people, affected more than 1,000 and generated appeals for external assistance.
In a foreword to the findings, Ms Margareta Wahlstrom, the head of the disaster reduction office, said the findings "underline why it is so important that a new climate change agreement emerges" from the Paris summit, known as the 21st Conference of the Parties or COP21.
Citing the rising temperature of the oceans and melting glaciers as two central drivers of extreme weather, Ms Wahlstrom said an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help reduce the huge damage and losses inflicted by disasters linked to climate.
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said in a statement: "We know what has to be done to prevent the devastation climate change can inflict. Failing to act would be unconscionable."
Severe weather conditions harm children by increasing malnutrition and spreading diseases that are major killers, including malaria and diarrhoea, the Unicef report said.
Climate change can also trigger a vicious circle. "A child deprived of adequate water and sanitation before a crisis will be more affected by a flood, drought or severe storm, less likely to recover quickly, and at even greater risk when faced with a subsequent crisis," it added.
Unicef called for the needs of the most vulnerable people to be prioritised in efforts to adapt to climate change, as well as measures to protect those displaced by disasters or inhospitable environments.
It also reaffirms the "crucial importance of education" and other forms of public awareness. "We owe it to our children - and to the planet - to make the right decisions at COP21," Mr Lake said.
Agence France-Presse reports that nearly 150 national leaders are expected to attend the summit.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS