What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 16

A winter storm blanketed the Chicago region in snow on Jan. 12, 2024. Photo credit: Guy Pinguino

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 Jan. 15, 2024.

New or Emerging Disasters

Tornadoes – Florida: The year 2024 is wasting no time on the disaster front, bringing storms and a series of tornadoes across the U.S. South. In Florida, the National Weather Service confirmed several tornadoes that hit the state on Jan. 9.

As of Jan. 11, the most powerful was the EF-3 tornado that hit Bay County. That EF-3 was the county’s first in more than 50 years and caused significant damage to homes and buildings.

For more, see our 2024 U.S. Tornadoes disaster profile.

Winter Storm – U.S.: Winter Storm Gerri arrived in the Northwest on Jan. 10 and swept across the country, causing varying levels of damage and disruption from Washington to Arizona to New England. Gerri prompted rare blizzard warnings in parts of the Northwest, brought heavy snow and blizzard conditions to the Midwest, and resulted in power outages for around 375,000 customers from the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic on Jan. 13.

Accidents and road closures were reported in Chicago, and parts of Interstate 70 were closed in Kansas on Jan. 11. Flooding was observed from coastal New Hampshire to southern Maine.

Floods – Australia: A severe thunderstorm brought flash flooding amid a heat wave that also produced bushfires in the Wheatbelt, one of nine regions of Western Australia, and areas around Perth, the capital of Western Australia.

On a nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) day, heavy rain and hailstones meant residents experienced severe temperature swings and extreme weather in a short period. Localized flash flooding was reported, and power was cut out to about 27,000 homes.

Floods – Brazil: Parts of Rio de Janeiro state remained flooded on Jan. 15 after heavy rains killed at least 12 people. The rain flooded homes, a hospital and a metro line in Rio de Janeiro.

Landslides were responsible for some of the deaths, with 18 towns across the state at “high” risk of landslides. Around 2,400 military personnel were mobilized to assist with rescues, and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes declared an emergency.

Landslide – Tanzania: At least 22 people died following a landslide at an illegal mine in northern Tanzania. The disaster occurred on Jan. 13 at Ng’alita mine in the Bariadi district in Simiyu region. The mining area was restricted due to heavy rains.

Tanzania is one of the world’s largest producers of gold, and illegal mining is common. More rain was expected across the country as of Jan. 16.

Tropical Cyclone – Mauritius and Reunion: Cyclone Belal made landfall on France’s Reunion Island and left at least one person dead, before charging toward Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, on Jan. 16.

In Mauritius, Belal killed one person, left thousands without power and resulted in cars submerged under floodwaters. Mauritius’ national meteorological department said on Jan. 16 that the island would feel the effects of the cyclone “for hours.”

Volcano – Iceland: A volcano erupted on Jan. 14 on the Reykjanes Peninsula for the second time in a month, with lava making its way through two fissures near the town of Grindavik. Residents of Grindavik were previously evacuated in December and allowed to return to their homes on Dec. 22. Authorities asked residents to evacuate again on Jan. 14 due to earthquakes in the area.

The lava flow damaged several homes, and although no one has been killed, one person is missing. An operation is underway to rescue more than 200 sheep.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Earthquake – Japan: As of Jan. 11, the death toll from the magnitude 7.6 earthquake on New Year’s Day was 213. Tragically, eight of the deaths were at evacuation centers, where rescued people reportedly died from injuries and sickness. Those eight deaths are a reminder of the potentially deadly conditions that can exist after the disaster event has passed. The death toll has climbed daily in the past week as crews continue the grim task of recovering the remains of people killed.

For more, see our 2024 Japan Earthquake disaster profile.

Fire – Bangladesh: A fire that began in the early morning of Jan. 7 tore through Camp 5 in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world. The fire was controlled within a few hours, yet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that the fire destroyed almost 800 shelters.

In The New Humanitarian, San Thai Shin describes how the fire has compounded the fears the camp’s residents face. From a cut in monthly assistance from the World Food Programme to gangs operating with impunity, the fire will make existing challenges only worse and affect people’s ability to recover quickly.

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:

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Cameroon

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.

Cameroon is affected by two major violent conflicts that drive the country’s humanitarian crisis. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the larger of the two conflicts is between the government and separatists from the English-speaking minority, which started in 2017 and has killed over 6,000 people. The country also faces a jihadist insurgency with attacks in the Lake Chad area.

In December 2023, ICG described ongoing violence in the Anglophone regions known as the Northwest and Southwest (NWSW). While in the Far North region, jihadist violence and attacks also continued. In the NWSW, the conflict has affected humanitarian access. For example, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported an armed attack on the village of Egbekaw, leading to the displacement of 465 people and 25 deaths.

UNOCHA said that in such a volatile context, “access to services, including quality healthcare, remains challenging and expose the population to several health risks.” The impact on food security is also severe.

Approximately 2.9 million people were affected by food insecurity and malnutrition between October and December 2023. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), crisis levels of food insecurity are expected in the NWSW regions through at least mid-2024. FEWS NET predicts that many people will start the year with debts and accumulate more debt to cope with the high food prices.

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Feb. 8: Beyond breaking news: Local journalism’s role in disaster recovery

What We’re Reading

  • El Niño, failed crops and more extreme weather: The UN’s predictions- and recommendations- for 2024 – Euronews: The World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024 report says, “The unfolding climate crisis and extreme weather events will undermine agricultural output and tourism, while geopolitical instability will continue to adversely impact several subregions … especially the Sahel and North Africa.”
  • WEF says world faces ‘gloomy outlook’ as AI, climate threats rise – Context: A report released by the World Economic Forum ahead of WEF’s annual Davos meeting summarizes results from a survey of risk experts, policymakers and business leaders. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they saw an “elevated risk” of global catastrophes, such as extreme weather disasters, within the next two years.
  • Breaking the Silence: The 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2023 – CARE: This is the eighth year of the report, and for the second year in a row, all ten of the most under-reported crises are in Africa.
  • State Policy Report – Disaster Resilience: 2023 Session Recap – Columbia Climate School: This report explores disaster resilience laws enacted by state legislatures in 2023 and analyzes legislation enacted across all 50 states and D.C., categorizing bills based on content. During the 2023 legislative sessions, all 50 states and D.C. enacted 668 bills relating to disasters.
  • Up close: Mountain communities re-learn how to live with wildfires – Colorado Public Radio: Nearly half of Colorado residents live in wildfire-prone areas known as the wildland-urban interface. Local fire districts are using novel ways to educate the public and warn that Coloradans must learn to coexist with fire.
  • Thousands of U.S. homes have flooded over and over again. Here’s where. – The Washington Post: “The number of U.S. properties that have flooded numerous times continues to rise, according to newly released federal data, in the latest sign of the nation’s mounting flood risk.”

Zoological Wildlife Foundation video went viral when a baby capybara was captured showing her rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance.