Chile , Argentina , Venezuela , Brazil and Peru

Climate-related disasters have caused US$100bn losses in South America

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, September 01, 2021
Climate-related disasters have caused US$100bn losses in South America

Climate-related natural disasters caused US$101bn in economic losses and nearly 58,000 deaths across South America in the 50 years between 1970 and 2019, according to the World Meteorological Association (WMO).

The WMO warned in a report that the number of climate-related disasters recorded per decade worldwide quintupled between 1970 and 2019.

Floods were the most common disaster in the period, with drought also causing heavy losses, About 23% of the economic losses (US$23.5bn) were linked to droughts in Argentina, with the worst episode in terms of cost taking place in 2018 (US$3.4bn).

The most costly climate-related disaster in South America in the 50 years was the 1978 drought in southern Brazil (US$9.02bn), followed by another drought in the same country in 2014 (US$5.28bn).

In terms of loss of life, the 1999 floods in Venezuela topped the list in the region, with 30,000 fatalities, accounting for over half of the death toll for such disasters in the 50-year period. However, the WMO noted that there was no noticeable upward trend in climate casualties. 

On the other hand, it underlined that the frequency of disasters and the economic costs had increased significantly over the years.

Between 1970 and 1979, South America reported only 73 climate-related disasters, but that figure increased to 246 between 2010 and 2019. In the same time span, the economic losses rose from US$15.6bn to US$29.3bn.

In recent years, countries across the region have started to invest heavily in flood control and measures to secure water provision in the face of drought.

Chile in particular is entering its 13th consecutive year of drought, and the government is now trying to give a water issues a higher priority in its public works ministry with the creation of a new water secretariat, which, among other measures, would create a ministerial panel in charge of drafting a 10-year water plan and allow the ministry to carry out desalination projects.

In the case of Argentina, the drought has not only caused problems for the agricultural sector, but also affected its main waterway – the Paraná river, which is the transportation route for about 80% of its exports.

In Peru, following the 2017 rains that caused US$3.16bn in losses, according to the WMO report, the government included flood control works in a US$2bn government to government agreement with the UK.

As for Brazil, the recent drought, which is part of the causes of the crisis in the Paraná waterway in Argentina, has reached a point in which power rationing is seen as almost inevitable.

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