Table Mountain wildfire, floods and 'severe weather' cost SA billions in 2021

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Fire broke out on Table Mountain on April 19, 2021 - the wildfire spread to the University of Cape Town campus causing damage to historical buildings.
Fire broke out on Table Mountain on April 19, 2021 - the wildfire spread to the University of Cape Town campus causing damage to historical buildings.
Gallo Images/ Misha Jordaan
  • Globally there were 401 natural disaster events in 2021, which have led to economic losses of $343 billion - about R5.2 trillion, according to insurance group AON.
  • South Africa's economic losses came to over $175 million - about R2.7 billion - and are linked to the Table Mountain wildfire and flooding and severe weather events.
  • Collectively, 41 people in South Africa lost their lives due to natural disasters, the AON report indicated.

The Table Mountain wildfire, flooding and severe weather events led to $175 million or about R2.7 billion in economic losses to South Africa in 2021, a report by insurance group AON shows.

These events were among the "global disasters" listed in multinational AON's 2021 Weather, Climate and Catastrophe Insight report, published this week.

The report shows that there were 401 natural disaster events globally in 2021. These events include tropical cyclones, flooding and wildfires. "Approximately 10 500 people lost their lives due to global natural catastrophe events in 2021," the report read.

Economic losses racked up to $343 billion or about R5.2 trillion. The most economic losses were recorded in 2011, at $615 million or R9.3 trillion. Insured losses in 2021 amounted to $130 billion or R1.9 trillion. Insurance covered 38% of global economic losses.

A natural disaster, according to AON, must meet at least any of the following criteria - economic losses of $50 million (R757 million), insured losses of $25 million (about R378 million), 10 fatalities, 50 injuries and home and structures damaged or filed claims amounting to 2 000.

"These kinds of catastrophes are increasing in frequency and severity — impacting livelihoods, communities, and businesses across the globe," the report read. AON highlighted that the influence of climate change in natural disasters is evident in the tropical cyclones, and extreme rainfall and temperatures.

It must be noted that News24 previously reported arson is suspected to have been the cause of the wild fire which started on Table Mountain and spread to the University of Cape Town and other historic landmarks.

The AON report, however, flags the Table Mountain fire as part of its global catastrophe review. While there were no fatalities, the report notes that economic losses from the fire were over $100 million (or R1.5 trillion). AON also lists flooding in northern parts of the country earlier in 2021 as part of its global disasters - 31 fatalities resulted. At the time tropical cyclone Eloise hit Mozambique and this had led to heavy rainfall in parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

The economic losses from the flooding is estimated at $75 million or R1.1 billion, according to AON.

AON also noted "severe weather events" in December but did not elaborate on what these were - however they led to 10 fatalities and economic losses running into "millions."

On a global level, flooding - mostly in Europe and China - was costliest in terms of economic losses at $105 billion (or R1.5 trillion). The second-costliest in terms of economic losses was tropical cyclones, mainly Hurricane Ida in the US, amounting to $75 billion (about R1.1 trillion). Tropical cyclones and severe weather accounted for $1 trillion (about R15 trillion) in losses for the insurance industry specifically.

Reality of climate change

A September 2021 report commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights, Climate impacts in southern Africa during the 21stCentury, noted that the region is vulnerable to climate change and is expected to become warmer and drier than it already is.

The report was authored by the late Robert Scholes and Francois Engelbrecht of the Global Change Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Warmer and drier conditions do not bode well for agriculture - global warming of 3 degrees Celsius could collapse the maize crop and render the livestock industry unviable, the authors warn. Crop yields will decrease. Risks to food security will also grow with further warming.

Fresh water availability will also be compromised due to decreasing rainfall and increasing evaporation due to the heat. "Water quality also decreases in a warmer, drier southern Africa, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases," the report read.

Extreme temperature events are already evident. Heat waves, high fire-danger days and temperatures that negatively impact human health and comfort are expected if climate change can't be mitigated, the authors put forward. Heat stress will also negatively impact productivity in both animals and humans.

Globally tropical cyclones will increase with warming. "The high winds, elevated sea levels and extreme precipitation associated with cyclones result in loss of life, injury and major damage to coastal infrastructure, such as buildings, roads and bridges," the report read. Recently tropical storm Ana killed at least 34 people in Madagascar and two people in Mozambique. There were 66 injuries recorded in Mozambique, and 546 homes were partially destroyed while 115 more were completely destroyed, Reuters reported.

Scholes and Engelbrecht note that the tropical storms are expected to deliver more rainfall due to climate change.

More species are also at risk of extinction. "The risk of extinction rises ever more steeply with climate change, exacerbated by air pollution and water shortages," the report read. Human well-being, however, depends on biological diversity and well-functioning ecosystems, the authors highlighted.

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