What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, December 12

Landslide in Risaralda, Colombia on Dec. 4, 2022. Source: UNGRD via Twitter.

We know all too well that disaster can strike at any time, in any place in the world. Some disasters make headlines; others do not. Here at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we keep an eye on the status of disasters worldwide and compile a list of the ones we’re tracking weekly, along with relevant disaster-related media coverage.

Here’s what we’re watching for the week of Dec. 12, 2022.

New or Emerging Disasters

Cyclone – India: Cyclone Mandous, named by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), formed on Dec. 8 in the Bay of Bengal just to the northeast of Sri Lanka. The cyclone had maximum sustained winds of up to 55 mph (90 km/h), equivalent to the strength of a tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Mandous made landfall near Chennai on Dec. 9 and then made its way across coastal Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh districts before weakening into a depression. The cyclone killed at least four people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, damaged about 185 homes and resulted in power outages. Preparedness efforts included moving more than 9,000 people to safety in 201 camps.

Landslide – Colombia: A landslide buried a bus in northwestern Colombia on Dec. 4, resulting in the deaths of at least 34 people. The landslide was caused by heavy rain associated with La Niña. More than 70 rescuers spent nearly 24 hours searching for survivors before the search was called off on Dec. 5. Landslides are common in Colombia due to the mountainous terrain, regular heavy rains and informal home construction.

Oil Spill – Kansas: A rupture of the Keystone pipeline on Dec. 7 in northeast Kansas that leaked 14,000 barrels of crude oil into a creek is the largest in the pipeline’s history. Environmental agencies say local drinking water and air quality have not been affected. The operator, Canada-based TC Energy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the spill had been contained. There were no evacuations, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment warned people not to go into the creek or allow animals to wade in. The cause of the leak has not yet been determined, and cleanup is ongoing.

Volcano – Guatemala: The Fuego Volcano, one of Central America’s most active, began erupting on Dec. 11, releasing a massive plume of ash and smoke into the air. Fuego, also known as Chi Q’aq’, overlooks the city of Antigua from around 10 miles away. Authorities closed the country’s largest airport and a major highway. According to a spokesperson for the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, no evacuations have been implemented. The June 2018 eruption of Fuego created an avalanche of rock and ash that killed nearly 200 people. People living near the volcano are aware of the hazard. As an example of preparedness, many local families have a backpack ready with essential items to evacuate for up to three days if needed.

Winter Storm – Western U.S.: Heavy snow fell in the Sierra Nevada as a winter storm closed mountain highwayswhile downpours at lower elevations triggered flood watches in portions of California and Nevada on Dec. 12. The weather system has been named Winter Storm Diaz by the Weather Channel and is expected to move across the Rockies before becoming a Plains blizzard this week. Winter storm warnings and watches, and winter weather advisories have been issued by the National Weather Service for a large area that extends from the mountain West into the upper Midwest. The same system will bring severe thunderstorms to the South this week and could lead to tornadoes, destructive wind gusts, large hail and flash flooding.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Flooding – Nigeria: Floods have affected more than 4.4 million people across Nigeria since July, with over 2.4 million displaced, about half of them in Bayelsa State. Floods have also damaged more than 1.6 million acres (650,000 hectares) of farmland, increasing concerns of worsening hunger amid already alarming food insecurity levels in the country. While Nigeria has experienced flooding previously, this year’s floods have been catastrophic affecting people’s livelihoods and students’ studies and increasing food insecurity and health risks. Security in Nigeria’s northeast, one region affected by the flooding, remains volatile due to increased attacks on civilians by non-state armed groups and hampered humanitarian access.

In addition to the disasters listed above, we are actively monitoring the following disasters or humanitarian emergencies. For more information, see the relevant disaster profiles, which are updated regularly.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Colombia

Many places worldwide are experiencing emergencies caused by conflict, climate change, drought, famine, economic challenges and other conditions that combine to create a complex humanitarian emergency (CHE). CDP maintains complete profiles on several CHEs, and what CDP considers Level 1 CHEs are profiled in this weekly blog post and tracked.

The humanitarian situation in Colombia remains complex and has significantly deteriorated in the last year. The main drivers are the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the escalation of violence with increased population displacements, the steady flow of migrants and refugees from Venezuela and the impact of climate change-fueled disasters.

Fighting between armed groups continues, putting an early test to new Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s promise to bring “total peace” to the South American nation. Peace negotiations are ongoing between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining rebel group.

In a sign of progress, the ELN agreed to allow the Indigenous Embera community to return to its lands in the west of the country after being displaced by the fighting. However, challenges remain. Attacks by armed groups in areas connected to the drug trade have killed at least 199 social leaders and human rights defenders this year, the highest level recorded.

A migration crisis also engulfs the country. Between January and September 2022, more than 150,000 people crossed into Panama from Colombia through the Darién Gap, a dangerous jungle connecting the two countries. Most people making the journey are Venezuelan, fleeing their country’s political and socioeconomic crisis.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are thawing, and experts say the two countries must work together to end violence along their border and ensure humanitarian access. The Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela has requested $1.72 billion to support the ongoing needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela throughout Latin America and the Caribbean over the next two years.

According to the World Bank, Colombia ranks 10th globally regarding the economic risk posed by three or more hazards. Flooding and landslides are Colombia’s most frequent natural hazards, and the country is vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise.

On Oct. 8, Category 1 hurricane Julia swept through the La Guajira department in northeastern Colombia, affecting more than 159,000 people. The Cauca, Cundinamarca, Norte de Santander, Magdalena, Meta, and Córdoba departments have been the most affected by the rainy season and the La Niña phenomenon. Colombia’s National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the Cauca, Cundinamarca, Norte de Santander, Magdalena, Meta and Córdoba departments had been the most affected by the rainy season.

What We’re Reading

  • Fear of the F-word: Somalia avoids famine declaration as hunger spreads – The Guardian: For months, the United Nations and aid agencies have been predicting that famine would be announced any day. Famine has become a point of political contention and is deeply divisive in Somalia.
  • The push to anticipate crises gains steam – The New Humanitarian: Growing humanitarian needs, the impacts of climate change and new conflicts are straining the humanitarian system and calling for new ways of working. Anticipatory action aims to save lives and money by planning and acting before a disaster or crisis. However, less than one percent of humanitarian funding goes to anticipatory action.
  • ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for’ – Alliance: In December’s issue of Alliance magazine, Patty McIlreavy, CDP’s president and CEO, says, “It is the time for those who seek to help those most affected by disasters to discard the barriers and silos we have built around ourselves. Time to celebrate tearing down systems of oppression rather than a community’s resilience to those systems. And time to practise the lessons we’ve been taught time and again, that centring affected people is critical to effective grantmaking.”
  • Kentucky residents still rebuilding their lives 1 year after deadly tornado outbreak – AccuWeather: This month brings back painful memories of a deadly tornado that caused catastrophic destruction in the city of Mayfield in 2021. The Mayfield Graves County Long Term Recovery Group is playing a vital role in the recovery process and aims to put 25 families into 25 homes by Christmas.

The tradition of snowplow-naming contests started in Scotland but has now spread to several U.S. states. In Minnesota, 2021 winners included “Betty Whiteout” and “Ctrl Salt Delete.” The light-hearted competition helps teach plow safety.