What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, December 18

Road damage from extreme rainfall and flooding in Queensland, Australia, Dec. 16, 2023. (Credit: Transport and Main Roads Queensland via Facebook)

We know all too well that disaster can strike anytime, anywhere in the world. Some disasters make headlines; others do not. Here at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), we monitor 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. 18, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Disease Outbreak – Africa: Five countries in East and Southern Africa are experiencing anthrax outbreaks, with a total of 1,166 suspected and 37 confirmed cases as of Dec. 11, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The cases have been recorded in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the disease is endemic. Zambia is experiencing its largest outbreak since 2011.

International teams have been deployed to the region to provide support, and government authorities are taking public health measures.

The WHO says anthrax is an infection caused by the spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. The bacteria produce “extremely potent toxins which are responsible for the symptoms, causing a high lethality rate.”

Flooding – U.S. Northwest: An atmospheric river event brought heavy rainfall to the Pacific Northwest the week of Dec. 6, with neighborhoods and roads from the Pacific coast to the foothills of the Cascades covered with floodwaters.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, atmospheric rivers “are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics.”

At least two people were killed in Oregon, and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued at least five people by helicopter.

Flooding – U.S. Northeast: An overnight storm brought several inches of rain, resulting in flooding and wind gusts that left tens of thousands out of power across the northeast U.S. on Dec. 18. Coastal areas are expected to see flooding about three feet above ground with beach fronts threatened by 12 to 16-foot surf breaks. More than 245,000 power outages were reported from Pennsylvania to New York to New England.

Flooding – Australia: In a matter of hours, Cairns, a city in northeast Australia, received an unprecedented 6.5 feet (2 meters) of rainfall. The area would typically see this amount of rainfall in a year. The heavy rains resulted from the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Jasper, which made landfall last week before stalling over Queensland.

No deaths or injuries have been reported, but at least 300 people were rescued in and around Cairns on Dec. 17. Thousands were without power, and authorities warned of water shortages.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said the disaster would have a “billion-dollar impact” on the state, and more rain was expected on Dec. 18.

Tornado – North Carolina: On Dec. 10, an EF-1 tornado tore through the town of Garner, causing extensive damage. According to the National Weather Service, the tornado had maximum winds of 110 miles per hour and stayed on the ground for four minutes. Local officials reported more than 20 homes were damaged after the disaster, with four homes uninhabitable.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Earthquake – Nepal: About six weeks since an earthquake, combined with high vulnerability, killed at least 154. More than 40,000 people are living under tarpaulin as temperatures drop. At least 38 earthquake survivors have reportedly died since the disaster. Local health officials are seeing people with pneumonia, flu and fever.

After the earthquake, local and international organizations distributed aid; however, donor support has been limited. On Dec. 13, Human Rights Watch called on the government to “create policies that expedite reconstruction instead of delaying it and help with livelihoods.”

Wildfire – Colorado: This month will mark the second anniversary of the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Marshall Fire, which killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. As of October of this year, only 188 families out of the nearly 1,100 who lost their homes had finished rebuilding their homes and moved back.

Fifteen months after the disaster, the Urban Institute shared results from surveys of Marshall Fire survivors, which showed those with higher incomes were more likely to have the resources to rebuild and were rebuilding more quickly. Household and community recovery is ongoing, reminding us that equitable disaster recovery takes years, not months. Through its Colorado Wildfires Recovery Fund, CDP supported recovery efforts in Boulder County.

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

U.S. Midwest Low-Attention Disasters

The Midwest is regularly faced with low-attention disasters that affect people across the region. CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund (ERF) effectively funds efforts that catalyze equitable disaster recovery.

These are some of the latest disasters and related news the ERF team is monitoring:

  • For the first time, the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management is offering a Community Emergency Response Team Course Facilitator program, specific to the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community, for education on disaster preparedness in hazardous situations.
  • The University of Oklahoma’s School of Meteorology and the Department of Native American Studies collaborated on research that shows Native Americans face flooding risks more than the general population in the state.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Haiti

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.

Ulrika Richardson, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, who is also the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, told journalists on Dec. 8 that Haiti faces a situation of “deplorable brutal violence” with around 80% of the capital Port-au-Prince under the control of gangs.

More than 4.3 million people, about two out of every five, face acute food insecurity. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, “gang violence and poor economic conditions continue to disrupt income-earning activities and drive high food prices.”

Poor households in gang-controlled areas of Port-au-Prince are worst affected, but rural households’ limited livelihood opportunities and lower crop yields are driving hunger there.

The operational conditions are very challenging for humanitarian organizations, with many forced to stop or pause their work. Medecins Sans Frontieres is one of the few remaining international organizations delivering medical care in the capital. However, they are indefinitely suspending work at an emergency medical center in the area of Turgeau after an armed group pulled a patient from an ambulance and killed him.

Attention is often focused on Port-au-Prince, but criminal violence has been observed in other parts of the country. A report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights documents the rise in criminal violence in the Bas-Artibonite district, located in Central Haiti.

However, it is important to note that the intensity of violence witnessed in Port-au-Prince is not seen in every region. Haiti is not a monolith.

As of Nov. 29, donors had funded just 33% of Haiti’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan. The food security sector had received only 27% of the funding requested. The UN Children’s Fund describes why flexible funding is critical, particularly in this context.

What We’re Reading

  • Disaster risk reduction must include people with disabilities – UCL IRDR Blog: December 3rd was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Abigail Ewen writes, “There is a pressing need for new methods and approaches that provide locally led solutions as increasing the policy provisions and guidelines that advocate for inclusion seem to have done little to swing the status quo.”
  • Climate Planning Has Left Out Disabled People in Rural Areas. Here’s How to Fix That. – The Urban Institute: Rural areas are home to a disproportionate share of people with disabilities—about 1 in 3 rural adults has a disability. These areas also face a greater natural hazard risk than urban areas. Anne N. Junod, Nina Russell and Corianne Payton Scally argue that disabled people living in rural areas need better planning and investments around climate risks.
  • The biggest philanthropy pledges at COP 28 – Devex: “One of the major themes behind commitments made by some of the world’s wealthiest donors was that while philanthropy can’t fully fund global climate goals on its own, it can provide critical seed funding that can accelerate the development of new science and technology and help mobilize future investments from the public and private sectors.”
  • Humanitarian crises will worsen in 2024 – Reuters: In its 2024 Emergency Watchlist, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) says climate change, worsening armed conflicts, growing debt loads and shrinking international support will accelerate humanitarian crises worldwide in 2024. Sudan topped the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist, followed by the occupied Palestinian territories and South Sudan.
  • Global Humanitarian Overview 2024 – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: In 2024, nearly 300 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance and protection due to conflicts, climate emergencies and other drivers. The main drivers include conflict, global climate emergency and economic factors.

This brilliant piece from The New Humanitarian focuses on Libya’s artists – what the time since the devastating floods has been like for them and what they are creating.