(NaturalNews) The number of natural disasters around the world has increased by more than four times in the last 20 years, according to a report released by the British charity Oxfam. Oxfam analyzed data from the Red Cross, United Nations and researchers at Louvain University in Belgium. It found that the earth is currently experiencing approximately 500 natural disasters per year, compared with 120 per year in the early 1980s. The number of weather-related disasters in 2006 was 240, compared with 60 in 1980.
At the same time, the number of geologically related natural disasters has held steady. Oxfam has attributed the increasing disaster rate to global warming
"We are talking about some very unusual floods in West Africa, very unusual floods in East Africa, extraordinary floods in Mexico and parts of Central America, and heat waves in Greece [and] eastern Europe," report author John Magrath said.
"This is no freak year," said Oxfam director Barbara Stocking. "It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people."
Between 1985 and 1994, Oxfam found that 174 million people were affected by disasters each year. In the following decade, this figure increased by 70 percent to 254 million people per year.
The increasing disaster rate has disproportionately affected the poor, the report noted. Although rich countries tend to distribute aid primarily in the event of high-profile emergencies, the increase over the past two decades has been mostly in small to medium disasters.
But it is precisely these smaller disasters, when they follow quickly upon each other with no opportunity for recovery, that can destroy poor communities' abilities to support themselves.
Magrath noted that those least responsible for causing global warming are being hardest hit by its effects.
"There is a basic global injustice in this," he said. "It seems to us that the rich nations of this earth have the historical responsibility to act first and fastest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to show an example and to lead the way."