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Category 5 storms: A norm or exception?

20 March 2018
A blog by Wonderful Hope Khonje, Technical Economic Officer, Commonwealth Secretariat

Compared to their larger counterparts, small states are at a higher risk of extreme weather events, which threaten to wipe out their developmental gains, and to some extent, their very existence.

According to the IMF, the economic cost of the average natural disaster during 1950-2014 was nearly 13 percent of GDP for small states, compared to less than 1 percent of GDP for larger states. During that same period, the average natural disaster affected 10 percent of the population in small states, compared to just 1 percent for other countries.

In recent times, the frequency of disasters affecting small states has been far much greater, reflecting small states’ proximity to cyclone and hurricane belts. In addition, there has been a rapid expansion in the number of higher category cyclones.  These have left a trail of devastation in their wake, and are estimated to have generated costs in the billions.

In March 2015, category 5 cyclone  Pam struck Vanuatu, and in Fiji, category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston left over 40 percent of the population negatively impacted. A few weeks ago, Tropical Cyclone Gita, the worst storm to hit Tonga in 60 years, caused significant damage to infrastructure and unprecedented disruption to amenities.

As recent as last year, the Caribbean experienced widespread destruction and substantial loss and damage due to category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria. These hurricanes damaged critical infrastructure in Anguilla and Barbuda, whilst; and the Bahamas suffered remarkable damage to physical structures.  Moreover, there were damages to over 80 percent of homes, electricity and telecommunications in Dominica; and the list goes on. 

Is this growing frequency of robust and destructive category 5 storms a norm or exception?

Well, there is a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest that the recent increase of these highly destructive storms are indeed linked to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model projections, in particular, global warming is expected to cause an intensification of devastating cyclones by the end of the 21st century. I believe that should this projection come to fruition, such weather events will most-likely push small states beyond their coping point, given their already weak adaptive capacities.

The real question is this:

What does all this mean for the economic development and very existence of small states, and can this be solved through increased financing for development?

Post your response to: w.khonje@commonwealth.int

Khonje, Wonderful Hope
Technical Economic Officer
Economic, Youth & Sustainable Development Directorate
Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth is actively collaborating with partners such as the DFID to support small and vulnerable states to strengthen their disaster planning and better manage the economic impact of emergencies.

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