A climate of crisis - floods, drought and wildfires around the world
Just a few years ago, the impacts of climate change had to be looked for: now, as extreme weather events come frequently and ever more destructive, they are hard to keep up with. However, beyond Harvey, many have not made the headlines. This is a brief summary of some of the extraordinary weather impacts across four continents in the last couple of months, as we continue to 'load the dice' for catastrophe by altering our climate.
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Early in the morning on 14 August, heavy rains in Freetown, Sierra Leone triggered a mudslide. Muddy rubble cascaded down the mountainside, destroying homes and burying people inside them. The death toll from this tragedy has now risen to over a thousand.
In the same week, over 200 people are believed to have died after a mudslide hit a fishing village in DR Congo.
Since then intense rain has reached Benue, the central state of Nigeria. More than 110,000 people have fled their homes because of major flooding. The floods have also hit thousands of homes in Niger, forcing stranded residents to take shelter in local schools. This Quartz Africa piece has more information.
In contrast to these sudden floods, the food crisis in East Africa has been building up through prolonged droughts. These, combined in some places with ongoing conflict, have left more than 16 million people hungry. The famine and food shortages affecting Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, and South Sudan are the worst in decades.
Around 40 million people in north western India, Nepal and Bangladesh have been affected by catastrophic monsoon floods. In Bangladesh alone, a third of the land has been inundated in the worst floods for 100 years and nearly half the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, home to 220 million people was flooded. Floods brought the city of Mumbai to a standstill and caused a building to collapse, killing 21. In Karachi, Pakistan floods killed 23 people.
More than 1,400 people died in the floods, and vast numbers more have lost homes and livelihoods, while the loss of crops threatens longer term food supplies. Difficulty in providing clean water also presents a danger of disease outbreaks. Around 13,000 people are suffering in an outbreak of diarrhoea in northern Bangladesh.
Hurricane Irma has intensified into the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, around the size of France, with sustained winds of over 185 miles per hour for more than 24 hours and gusts over 200 mph. It passed directly over the tiny island of Barbuda, destroying around 90% of housing there and skirted Puerto Rico, leaving two thirds of the island without power, in damage to the power system which could take months to repair. It caused further damage in Cuba, collapsing buildings and flooding Havana, and then hit Florida with winds of 130mph, then slowing as it moved up the peninsula but causing further damage. So far 31 deaths have been reported across all countries affected.
Irma of course follows closely on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which looks to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history, causing extraordinary flooding in Houston. Harvey killed an estimated 47 people and displaced more than one million after causing wreckage in an area stretching for nearly 500km.
There is a clear link between hurricane intensity and rainfall and the abnormally warm waters of both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, the eastern United States has been battling wildfires. Dry hot conditions during July and August continued a trend towards increased wildfires. Los Angeles saw the largest wildfire in history on its outskirts. Major fires burned in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. For weeks, people in the west have been breathing air polluted by smoke with significant health implications. North of the border, British Columbia saw its worst wildfire season on record with 11,000 square kilometres burnt. Shockingly, there was even a major wildfire in Greenland.