The impact of climate change on extreme natural phenomena
The increasing probability that natural disasters occur due to climate change is one of the warnings the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes in its Management Report on the risks of extreme weather phenomena and improving the response to climate change. The report states that evidence derived from observations made since 1950 points to changes in various extreme climatic phenomena.
According to the IPCC, the variations in these climatic phenomena shows how climate change is being influenced by humans, adding to the natural variability of the climate and increasing our exposure and vulnerability to climatic and non-climatic factors alike.
Indonesian tsunami (2018)
Two quakes of 6 and 7.5 magnitude respectively hit the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in September. The latest tremor unleashed a tsunami that swept all before it in Palu city.
The death toll stands at 1,763 but risks increasing, since 5,000 people cannot be accounted for. Some 62,000 are displaced, currently staying in 147 temporary shelters.
In the Petobo quarter of Palu alone, over 2,000 homes have been destroyed by mud due to liquefaction of the soil, a phenomenon that occurs when a movement affects unsteady surfaces with floods of water, provoking landslides and the release of mud that swamps buildings.
California fires (2018)
Great droughts proved the perfect stage for huge forest fires in the US, which spread very rapidly. In fact, four of the five most devastating infernos in history in the state of California have occured since 2012.
In 2017 alone, around 559,000 hectares burned and fires accounted for the lives of 46 people. The July 2018 fire in the area of Mendocino beat the record: 114,850 hectares. According to the deputy director of Cal Fire, "it spread extremely rapidly, was extremely aggressive and extremely dangerous". The fire caused not only devastation to fauna and flora but many evacuations.
Hurricane Irma (US), Caribbean islands, September 2017)
Irma was the heaviest tropical cyclone observed in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005. It reached maximum category 5 and winds up to 250 kmph, beating the historical record for duration and strength. She left 92 dead in her wake and caused one of the biggest evacuations ever seen, with 6 million displaced from coastal zones northward.
Florida Keys got the worst however, where 1,200 homes were destroyed and another 3,000 seriously damaged. The hurricane also killed 37 people in the Caribbean, 10 of them on Cuba, due to homes collapsing, flooding and falling pylons.
Floods in Peru (America, 2017)
In Peru, heavy rainfall caused floods that left 100 dead, 20 disappeared, 350 injured, 120,000 other victims and 740,000 affected in some way or other by the catastrophe.
Economic losses were estimated at three billion dollars and growth forecasts have been lowered for the next few months. The government announced it would take measures to bolster infrastructure to prevent similar devastation in future.
Typhoon Haiyan (Asia, 2013)
Known also as Yolanda, Typhoon Haiyan devastated Southeast Asia in November 2013 as one of the most violent tropical cyclones in modern times.
Haiyan battered Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Micronesia, Palau and the Philippines for a week, causing at least 6,300 deaths, with unconfirmed reports putting the toll even higher at over 10,000. The United Nations reported a further 11 million people were affected or lost their homes.
Hurricane Sandy (America, 2012)
Gales of over 140 kilometers per hour brought chaos to New York City in October 2012, even though Hurricane Sandy arrived on the US East Coast weakened after striking Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bermuda, Bahamas and Jamaica beforehand.
In the most populous city in the US, Sandy caused over 60 deaths and significant damage before continuing its journey north towards Canada, provoking a state of alert at the Oyster Creek nuclear power station in New Jersey.
Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa (Africa, 2011)
One of the most serious humanitarian crises in recent times ravished the Horn of Africa, impacting especially on Somalia and lasting from early 2011 to the end of 2012. A prolonged drought caused food shortages and over a quarter of a million died from hunger, 18% of them children younger than five, in the regions of Lower Shebelle, Mogadishu and Bay, according to the United Nations.
The famine was accentuated by the social and political conflicts that have made up the Somali landscape for over 20 years now. The country was unable to respond to the more than 10 million who suffered from the food and water shortages.
Heatwave in Russia (Europe and Asia, 2010)
If the heatwave that struck Europe n 2003 was hard, that of 2010, which hit Russia particularly, beat it in all senses, the worst in the past 500 years according to Spanish scientists.
Mortality rose by 50%, with up to 53,000 Russians dead, directly or indirectly due to the heat. Some 1,500 drowned desperately trying to cool off in water sources.
Forest fires in Victoria (Oceania, 2009)
Nearly half a million hectares razed, over 200 deaths, more than 500 injured in urban, rural, agricultural, woodland, natural reserve and national park areas made the summer of 2009 a living hell in the southern Australian state of Victoria.
The series of destructive fires were due to the confluence of an extreme heatwave, unprecedented drought and strong gales. The event led the Australian government to significantly toughen its disaster prevention measures.
Cyclone Nargis (Asia, 2008)
The tropical cyclone Nargis, officially left nearly 140,000 deaths in its wake as it devastated many vulnerable regions in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar in April and May of 2008.
The phenomenon was especially violent in Myanmar, where 85,000 people died and around 80% of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed or seriously damaged. Some 600 villages in the country were also swamped by the floods that followed the cyclone.
Hurricane Katrina (America, 2005)
The climate phenomenon that flooded 80% of New Orleans in Summer 2005 left more than 1,800 dead, a particularly high figure when considered that Hurricane Katrina took place in a developed country, the US.
Katrina also affected the Bahamas, Cuba and the states of Florida, Mississippi and Alabama, but it was in Louisiana’s most populous city that the rising water caused most destruction. Today, over a decade later, the city is almost fully restored and has installed flood barriers.
Heatwave in Europe (Europe, 2003)
With average temperatures up to 9 ºC higher than the maximums in other years, over 52,000 people died due to the heatwave that hit the Old Continent in Summer 2003.
It especially hit southern Europe – Spain, Italy and Portugal – but also had an effect in England, France and Germany. Deaths and health problems occurred during 16 consecutive days of the heatwave, with the elderly particularly hard hit.
Sources: United Nations, United Nations II, IPCC, 20 Minutos, ABC, El País, El Mundo, Oxfam, RTVE, Terra Ecología, Europa Press, Muy Interesante, El Mundo II, El País II, United Nations III, La Tercera, El País III, El Mundo III, El País IV, Clarín, El Mundo IV and El País V.