Rarely does a year go by without a devastating natural disaster somewhere in the world. While the Western developed world is built on temperate climates and solid ground, poorer, under-developed countries are constantly at risk from the ravages of climatic extremes, and geological shifts.
2023 has started with the most horrific of earthquakes in Turkey, and ricocheting over the border into Syria.
In the early hours of February 6th, millions of people were disturbed in the sleep by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake along the East Anatolian fault line. Just hours later, a second earthquake occurred – 7.5 magnitude, just north of the first quake. While the epicentre of both quakes was in Turkey, the resulting devastation destroyed thousands of buildings in cities and villages on both sides of the Turkey and Syrian border.
At the time of writing, the death toll stands at 36,000 and rising. And like all natural disasters, the response of normal everyday people – friends, family, neighbours, strangers – is what helps to restore faith in humanity as the bodies of the dead are dug out of the rubble and laid to rest in mass graves.
2022 – A year of flooding
2022 will be remembered for a number of catastrophic floods that occurred in Pakistan, India and Nigeria.
Between June and October 2022, heavy monsoon rains, poor urban planning and the effects of climate change caused flooding across several regions of Pakistan, killing 1739 people, and causing $14.9 billion worth of damage. With over 2.1 million people left homeless, charities such as Orphans in Need are running permanent campaigns to help raise the funds to resettle whole families who have not just lost their homes, but their entire way of life. With a third of the country under water, farmlands, livestock, crops and businesses were completely decimated. Entire infrastructures were destroyed, effectively isolating whole communities from accessing emergency aid.
As the world was focused on the devastation of the Pakistan floods, a smaller but no less catastrophic flood occurred in the north-eastern state of Assam in India, killing over 200 people. The flooding affected the lives of 5.4 million people across 32 districts. The town of Silchar was worst affected – 90 per cent of the town ended up underwater.
While the monsoon rains were a contributing factor, it was discovered that there was a manmade breach made to the dyke of the Barak river which was the principal cause. Subsequently arrests have been made and those accused of making the breach are being held to account.
Although the flooding in Nigeria did not make the same coverage on mainstream news as the Pakistan floods, it was nonetheless no less devastating for those involved. Again, heavy rains and climate change was held accountable for floods that displaced 1.4 million people, killed over 600 and destroyed more than 100,000 hectares of farming land.
The common theme with these floods – plus many smaller ones across the world but maybe not quite so widely reported, is the effect of climate change. The Pakistan floods, for example, occurred after a period of intense heat, when temperatures were hitting over 50 degrees centigrade.
The intense heat mean that the monsoon rains, when they arrived, were heavier than usual, and were hitting parched earth that could not absorb the water at the same speed that it usually would, causing water to spread further and faster than expected. In addition, melting glaciers caused an increase in sea levels, which further contributed to the continuing catastrophe.