What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 23

Flooding in Madagascar after Tropical Storm Cheneso, Jan. 19. 2023. (Source: BNGRC Madagascar via Facebook )

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 Jan. 23, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Cholera Outbreak – Malawi: The southeastern African county is experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in decades, with 28,132 confirmed cases and 916 deaths since March 2022. Malawi secured 2.9 million cholera vaccine doses from the Gavi-supported Global Oral Cholera Vaccine Stockpile in November but has now run out, according to the country’s health ministry.

Lilongwe, the nation’s capital, and Blantyre city, an economic hub in the country’s south, are the most affected. Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease spread through contaminated water and food, which can cause severe dehydration. People who lack access to safe water and sanitation are among the most vulnerable.

Some schools have closed due to the outbreak, while others cautiously reopened. There are concerns about the impact of the cholera outbreak on children’s education. CDP partners, including CARE, have shared that they are prioritizing prevention, treatment and oral vaccine promotion, and training workers on cholera case management treatment and prevention.

The world is seeing a surge in cholera due to complex humanitarian emergencies in countries with fragile health systems aggravated by climate change because warmer temperatures and increased rains make it easier for bacteria to spread. In 2022,cholera cases and deaths increased globally following years of decline.

Tropical Storm – Madagascar: Tropical Storm Cheneso made landfall across northeastern Madagascar on Jan. 19 with maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour. The storm weakened after landfall but could regain tropical characteristics this week. According to the island country’s National Office for Risk and Catastrophe Management, the tropical storm left one child dead and another missing while affecting more than 2,000 people in Ananjirofo Region. An estimated 2.2 million people are facing acute food insecurity, which disasters like Tropical Storm Cheneso often exacerbate.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Tornadoes – Alabama and Georgia: On Jan. 12, extreme weather and tornadoes left behind a path of destruction in the two southeastern states. In Alabama, the tornadoes resulted in the deaths of at least nine people, with two others killed in Georgia.

Satellite imagery shows the scale of destruction in Selma, Alabama. Preliminary data from the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham, Alabama, shows 2022 was the state’s second busiest year for tornadoes since records began in 1950. In 2023, the state has already seen 28 confirmed tornadoes.

According to the NWS, 12 tornadoes were confirmed across north Georgia and the metro Atlanta area. The strongest is the Pike/Spalding/Henry County tornado, an EF-3 with estimated peak winds of 150 miles per hour.

Alabama (DR-4684) and Georgia (DR-4685) received disaster declarations with Individual and Public Assistance available in designated areas.

This Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m. ET, CDP is hosting a webinar on the urgent and long-term needs of communities in Alabama and Georgia affected by the tornado outbreak. Register and join us.

For more, see our 2023 U.S. Tornadoes disaster profile.

Storms – California: After at least nine atmospheric rivers in a little more than three weeks dumped more than 30 trillion gallons of water on California, communities from Los Angeles to the Monterrey Peninsula are beginning the recovery process. Satellite imagery shows the extent of the storm’s impact on the state and how landscapes have been altered.

The storms killed at least 21 people statewide and caused significant damage that will likely require months and years of recovery. In Santa Cruz County alone, at least a thousand homes are estimated to have been damaged. Complicating recovery is the fact that few California homeowners have flood insurance. In the aftermath, risks remain, including health hazards, saturated hillsides, and lingering trash and debris. The cost of the storm’s damage is estimated at $1 billion.

California’s agriculture industry also has suffered damage. In Monterey County, officials estimated losses of $40 million to $50 million from flooded fields.

Despite the significant rainfall totals in California, the recent storms likely will not end the state’s long-term drought. California’s disaster declaration (DR-4683) includes Individual and Public Assistance for designated counties.

For more, see our California Storms disaster profile.

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.

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 disaster-related news the ERF team is monitoring:

  • Months have passed since historic flooding in St. Charles County, Missouri and the surrounding caused significant damage and displaced families. Some flood-affected homeowners are having challenges finding long-term recovery support.
  • Clean-up after the May 2022 derecho, which swept a roughly 100-mile-wide wall of dust and winds over 100 miles per hour across South Dakota, is ongoing. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, the multi-state cost of the derecho’s damage is $2.8 billion. Rebuilding could take until 2024.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

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 response in DRC is one of the longest running on the African continent. According to the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Until a solution to the conflict is identified, humanitarian needs are likely to continue to increase, with insufficient levels of funding to assist all those in need.”

An agreement was brokered in November 2022 under which the M23 rebel group was to withdraw from recently seized positions in eastern DRC by Jan. 15. The agreement was part of efforts to end a conflict that has displaced at least 450,000 people.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said on Jan. 17 that the rebel group had not withdrawn as agreed. Civil society groups recently protested in the eastern city of Goma to criticize delays in implementing the M23 rebel group withdrawal.

Conflict is not contained just to the eastern portions of the country. A series of attacks against civilians in northeastern DRC have been blamed on local militias. In the western provinces of Kwango, Kwilu and Mai-Ndombe, clashes between the Teke and Yaka communities over a land dispute have displaced more than 48,000 people since July 24.

In 2023, 26.4 million people will need humanitarian assistance. A staggering one out of four Congolese is severely food insecure. Priorities for the UN and humanitarian partners in 2023 include population movements, food insecurity, malnutrition, epidemics and protection incidents. Disasters, including flooding, continue to affect the country, negatively impacting the humanitarian situation.

What We’re Reading

  • Disaster Philanthropy is Transitioning for the Long Haul – Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy: First published in the 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2023 report, Michael Layton, Kevin Peterson and Katie Dietz write, “Leaders in this field understand both the importance of strengthening responsiveness and resilience equitably and how to do it — via advocacy and capacity building. The open question is whether more philanthropic dollars will support those efforts.”
  • Climate change trauma has real impacts on cognition and the brain, wildfire survivors study shows – The Conversation: A new study published this month by Jyoti Mishra and colleagues at the University of California San Diego shows that psychological trauma from extreme weather and climate events, such as wildfires, can have long-term impacts on survivors’ brains and cognitive functioning.
  • What part of the US has the most disasters? See a county-by-county breakdown – USA Today: Analysis of three decades of Federal Emergency Management Agency data on major presidential disaster declarations by USA Today shows that America’s top disaster counties are primarily concentrated in Kentucky and Oklahoma. Although few U.S. counties have gone untouched – 98% have been the site of at least one major federally declared disaster in the past 33 years.
  • Global food prices in 2022 hit record high amid drought, war – The Associated Press: According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global prices for food commodities like grain and vegetable oils were the highest on record last year, even after falling for nine months. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted food exports from the two countries, increasing food prices. This has been combined with climate shocks such as the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa to fuel starvation in the region.
  • How to end hunger: A famine expert’s plan – The New Humanitarian: In this interview, Nicholas Haan, faculty chair of global challenges at Singularity University and member of the Famine Review Committee, describes solutions the humanitarian sector can take to end hunger and famine. Haan says we must end immediate suffering while improving income generation and self-reliance by accelerating digital transformation so the most vulnerable can develop digital skills.

There is no shortage of disasters and other alarming events globally. I found these stories about human progress from the past 12 months refreshing.