What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 22

Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon remained closed on Jan. 19, 2024 due to debris and ice caused by winter storms. (Credit: OregonDOT via X)

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. 22, 2024.

New or Emerging Disasters

Winter Storms – United States: At least 72 people have died in winter storms that have been hitting regions across the country the past week and a half. The storms knocked out power amid freezing temperatures, dumped record snow in places and made for dangerous road conditions. Tennessee has seen the largest portion of those deaths, with at least 27 reported. Within the past week, Nashville received about twice the amount of snow the city typically gets in an average year.

About 57 million people were affected by winter weather alerts on Jan. 22. Oregon was also significantly impacted by the winter weather, with Governor Tina Kotek issuing a statewide state of emergency on Jan. 18.

Storm – United Kingdom: Storm Isha swept across large parts of the U.K. on Jan. 22, with forecasters issuing a yellow weather warning until midday. The warning advised the public “to take preventative action.” The Met Office issued a red wind warning covering the northeast coast of Scotland. Wind gusts between 73 and 90 miles per hour were recorded on Jan. 21.

Isha caused minor damage with trees down, power outages reported and travel disrupted. Although Storm Isha is on its way out, another weather system is expected to sweep across Britain this week.

Volcano Eruptions – Indonesia: Two volcanic eruptions on different islands in Indonesia have led to evacuations by authorities. On the island of Flores, Mount Lewotobi Laki-laki, one of the 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, spewed ash for days, and on Jan. 15, about 6,500 residents were evacuated. Authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level the week prior.

Mount Merapi, located on the densely populated island of Java, erupted again on Jan. 21, spewing ash over the mountain’s eastern slope. The Jan. 21 event was Merapi’s third flare-up this month, and about 500 residents were evacuated. In early December, Merapi erupted and killed 24 people.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Complex Humanitarian Emergency – Ukraine: As the war approaches its second anniversary, thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, civilian infrastructure has been targeted, livelihoods have been disrupted, and prolonged displacement is a reality for millions. In 2024, 14.6 million people, about 40% of the population, will need humanitarian assistance in Ukraine.

Humanitarians are currently focused on helping war-affected people survive the winter. Temperatures in winter can drop below -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius), putting millions of people already facing significant challenges in dangerous situations. Rural and frontline communities are particularly at risk, including the most vulnerable, such as children, people with disabilities and older adults.

For more, see our Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis disaster profile.

Cholera Outbreaks – Eastern and Southern Africa: Since 2023, 13 countries in the region have struggled against one of the worst cholera outbreaks to hit the area in years. As of Jan. 15, more than 200,000 cases, including over 3,000 deaths, have been reported. Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, in particular, are experiencing a surge of cholera cases, putting strain on communities and healthcare systems.

Many of the most vulnerable communities lack access to clean water and sanitation facilities, which are critical for preventing the spread of cholera. Oxfam said the situation could become “uncontrollable and difficult to manage”due to increased COVID-19 cases and the onset of the rainy season in the worst-affected countries.

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.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Somalia

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 community estimates that 6.9 million people in Somalia will need assistance in 2024. The number of people in need in 2024 will be 17% lower than in 2023 due to the end of the drought. While the 6.9 million figure is well above the 5-year average, the decrease compared to last year is a welcome development.

In 2023, rains provided relief after a devastating multi-year drought. Somalia’s most recent drought surpassed the 2010 to 2011 and 2016 to 2017 droughts in duration and severity. However, the heavy rains resulted in flooding that, in some places, was four to five times more than what is typical.

The flooding damaged infrastructure, destroyed homes, displaced thousands and disrupted livelihoods. Puntland, Galmudug, Southwest and Hirshabelle states and areas along the Juba River in Jubaland State are among the worst affected. Somalia’s Disaster Management Agency says 1.2 million people are affected by floods, and 118 people have been killed.

Somalia also experiences ongoing insecurity and violent attacks by armed groups, tension with Ethiopia over a deal signed with Somalia’s breakaway region Somaliland and persistent cholera transmission. Donors funded 43% of Somalia’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Supporting local organizations in Somalia remains an important and effective strategy for funders. For more, see CDP’s Horn of Africa Hunger Crisis disaster profile.

Upcoming webinar

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

What We’re Reading

  • As Climate Shocks Worsen, U.S. Disaster Agency Tries a New Approach to Aid – The New York Times: On Jan. 19, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced changes to some programs that disaster survivors and advocates, including CDP, have long identified as areas for improvement.
  • 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2024 – Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy: The eighth edition of this annual report identifies trends in philanthropy, and new this year is that each trend “poses a number of moral, economic, equity-related, tactical, and other questions that the sector will have to answer.”
  • Enough with the gloom. It’s time for humanitarians to tell a more realistic story – The New Humanitarian: In this opinion piece, Elias Sagmeister argues that “governments, communities – and yes, humanitarians – have made strides in reducing disaster deaths, and in averting famines.”

A man’s dog helped state troopers rescue him after falling into an icy lake in Michigan.