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The Need for ExtremeEarth
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The Need for ExtremeEarth
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Europe’s and the world's civil society and economy are highly vulnerable to natural hazards, and the impacts of extreme weather conditions, volcanoes and earthquakes are increasing, with ensuing loss of life, damage to property and cultural heritage. Between 1970 and 2012 severe weather events claimed 150,000 lives and caused a total damage of € 270 billion [1]. 2017 ranks as the year with the second highest recorded global reinsurance payouts of € 108 billion caused by extreme weather events, earthquakes and volcanoes. 

Everyone can recall recent examples of extreme events. Earthquakes continue to cause destruction in the European-Mediterranean region and the world: the 1999 earthquake in Izmit, Turkey, measured 7.6 on the Richter scale and killed 17,000 people, while in L’Aquila a moderate 5.9 magnitude quake killed more than 300 people and destroyed much of the city. Volcanic eruptions menace both European large cities (e.g., Naples with 3 million people at risk from Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei) and Europe as a whole. The small 2010 Icelandic Ejafjallajökull eruption caused the shut-down of air traffic operations over central-northern Europe for several days (estimated economic loss of € 1 billion per day). Droughts and heat waves in Europe have caused an increase in the number of affected areas and people of almost 20% between 1976 and 2006. The 2003 heat wave and drought affected over 100 million people over a third of the EU territory with a cost of at least € 8.7 billion and a death toll exceeding 70,000 [2]. The total cost of droughts over the past 30 years is estimated at € 100 billion [3]. Fires in Spain and Portugal in 2017 claimed over 100 casualties and led to an estimated damage of € 600 million. Winter storms in Europe caused significant economic damage, for example the most recent storm Burglind (€ 1.1-1.6 billion [4]) but also Kyrill in 2007 (€ 5.7 billion), Lothar and Martin in 1999 (€ 10 billion), Daria (€ 6.9 billion) and Vivian (€4.5 billion) in 1990, and 87J in 1987 (€ 5.2 billion) [5]. Floods in the European region affected 3.4 million people, and killed more than 1,000 people in the period from 2000 to 2011. The widespread floods of 2002 and 2013 caused economic damage of € 13.2 billion and € 12.8 billion [6], respectively, most of which were uninsured. The Global gross domestic product (GDP) exposed to river floods is on average € 77 billion each year [7]. These impacts occur despite the current prediction capabilities – so these are clearly insufficient.

Improving the resilience of our societies in the face of extreme events in the Earth system is an urgent priority today and in decades to come. Decision makers at all levels – from multinational organizations, the European Union, sovereign states, sub-sovereigns, cities and companies down to the local community – need to know the potential hazards and the vulnerability of society that they expose. Protection standards will be raised worldwide with the ongoing urbanization and economic developments in areas prone to natural hazards [8]. This will inevitably lead to a call for more accurate assessments and predictions of both occurrence and magnitude of extreme events.

[1] https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/joint-press-release-wmocreducl-atlas-of-mortality-and-economic-losses-from

[2] Robine et al., 2008: Death toll exceeded 70,000 in Europe during the summer of 2003. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 331 (2), 171–178.

[3] EC Communication, 2007: Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union. COM(2007)414 final.

[4] http://www.air-worldwide.com/Press-Releases/AIR-Worldwide-Estimates-Insured-Losses-from-Winter-Storm-Eleanor/Burglind-Will-Be-Between-EUR-1-1-Billion-and-EUR-1-6-Billionhttps://www.perils.org/losses regularly

[5] http://media.swissre.com/documents/sigma2_2017_en.pdf

[6] https://www.munichre.com/en/media-relations/publications/press-releases/2013/2013-07-09-press-release/index.html

[7] http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/03/world%E2%80%99s-15-countries-most-people-exposed-river-floods

[8] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/387821467309551281/pdf/WPS7663.pdf