Climate change and urbanization lead to more natural-disaster fatalities

Thanks to global warming and the increasing concentration of the earth’s denizens in densely populated urban centers, more and more people are vulnerable to natural disasters — floods, droughts, storms, fires, landslides, and the like. The number of reported natural disasters rose from 261 in 1990 to 337 last year; during the same period, the number of people affected rose almost threefold to 254 million. The statistics, reported by a U.N. agency on Friday, are particularly relevant at the moment, as the Caribbean and Southeast U.S. are being pounded by a series of devastating hurricanes, and these new numbers may heat up the debate over whether global warming is responsible for the rise in such storms. Climatologists are divided on the matter; while many expect that global warming may increase the intensity of storms in the relative short term and their frequency in the long term, the consensus seems to be that the current spate of hurricanes is due to natural fluctuations.