What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 30

A section of State Highway 25A collapsed as a result of heavy rain in Coromandel, New Zealand, Jan. 30, 2023. (Source: Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency)

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. 30, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Flooding – New Zealand: On Jan. 27, an estimated 9.8 inches (240 millimeters) of rain, equal to a summer’s worth of rain, fell on Auckland, making it the city’s wettest day on record. The rainfall produced devastating flooding and landslides, killing at least four people and requiring the evacuation of hundreds. Photos and drone footage show flooded streets and homes, damaged buildings, and a derailed train, revealing the extent of the disaster’s damage.

Auckland International Airport, the country’s largest and busiest airport, was closed on Jan. 27 due to flooding. Domestic flights resumed on Jan. 28, and international flights resumed the following day.

Auckland remained under a state of emergency on Jan. 29. Waitomo district, about 135 miles from Auckland, declared a state of emergency on Jan. 28 that was later lifted.

New Zealand is bracing for more heavy rain this week following new severe weather alerts.

Tornadoes – Texas and Louisiana: The National Weather Service says an EF-3 tornado touched down in Harris County, Texas, on Jan. 24, packing peak winds of 140 miles per hour and a path length of 18.8 miles. A continuous path of damage extended across portions of southeast Houston, Pasadena, Deer Park and Baytown.

The police chief in Pasadena described structural damage from a tornado as catastrophic. Around 88,000 electric customers in Texas were without power on the evening of Jan. 24, almost all of them in the state’s southeast corner. In Deer Park, dozens of people were evacuated from a nursing home where emergency crews responded to a structural collapse.

The storm moved east into Louisiana, where the sheriff’s office in Beauregard Parish reported significant damage to homes and buildings. On the morning of Jan. 25, nearly 16,000 customers were without power in Louisiana. In Pointe Coupee Parish, three people were injured when the storms hit mobile homes.

Mobile home residents have higher exposure to natural hazards such as floods and tornadoes. On Oct. 25, 2022, CDP hosted a webinar to help funders understand the role of mobile homes in society and how mobile homes can play a unique role in disaster recovery.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Tropical Storm – Madagascar: Tropical Cyclone Cheneso, which reached land on Jan. 19, was the first storm of the current cyclone season in Southern Africa, which typically runs from November to April. In January and February 2022, four major storms hit the country, killing at least 138 people and causing significant damage.

Flooding and landslides caused by the passage of Cheneso across Madagascar led to 30 deaths and affected tens of thousands. In the Boeny region in northwest Madagascar, almost 33,000 people had to leave their homes, and people say the prices of basic foodstuffs have increased. Several districts of Mahajanga, the capital of the Boeny region, flooded, as did the roads that connect them to the capital, Antananarivo.

Madagascar faces high levels of disaster risk due to exposure to various natural hazards, vulnerability and lack of coping capacity.

Winter Freeze – Afghanistan: The country is experiencing its coldest winter in 15 years, with temperatures as low as -27 degrees Fahrenheit (-33 degrees Celsius) since Jan. 10. The recent cold snap is blamed for the deaths of at least 160 people with Afghans dying of hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and gas leakage, amid a widespread lack of heating systems. The death toll could rise as people in rural areas dig themselves out of the snow.

Afghanistan imports most of its electricity from its neighbors, and the country is accustomed to shortages and power cuts. However, blackouts this winter have made the situation worse. With the price of firewood and coals, which are critical fuel sources, skyrocketing, many people have to choose between purchasing food or staying warm.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s largest and most severe complex humanitarian emergencies, and the winter freeze exacerbates the current humanitarian crisis. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that a record 28.3 million people will need humanitarian and protection assistance in 2023, up from 24.4 million in 2022 and 18.4 million in 2021. Access to safe shelter and heating sources is needed, as well as protection of livestock, a critical livelihood source for many families.

For more, see our Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis 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.

This is one of the latest disasters the ERF team is monitoring:

  • A December snowstorm that battered the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota resulted in the deaths of several tribe members. The storm buried the massive reservation that spans nearly 890,000 acres across five counties and left people stranded. The deaths are deemed preventable by some with frustration over the speed of response by emergency services and state authorities.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Sudan

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.

In October 2021, Sudan’s military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seized power from a transitional government. This month, political parties began talks to restore a civilian-led transition, which the United Nations (UN) hailed as an important step toward peace and democracy.

The December 2022 signing of a Political Framework Agreement for a two-year transition leading to elections is presented by supporters as a chance to move toward a genuine political transition. However, some say democracy proponents in Sudan should be wary of promises from junta leaders to give up political power.

Episodes of violence continue, contributing to instability and the deterioration of Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. On Jan. 23, armed men opened fire on a bus station in South Kordofan province, killing four people and leading provincial authorities to declare a monthlong state of emergency.

Since the beginning of 2022, more than 310,000 people have been newly displaced due to conflict and violence. In December 2022, tens of thousands of people were displaced in West Kordofan and Blue Nile following a wave of inter-communal clashes. There are an estimated 3.8 million internally displaced people in Sudan.

In 2023, a total of 15.8 million people, nearly one-third of the country’s population, need humanitarian assistance. In addition to conflict and violence, humanitarian needs are driven by economic deterioration, natural hazards and disease outbreaks. To meet these needs, humanitarians will focus on enabling efficiency in the response and emphasizing resilience-based activities.

What We’re Reading

  • Feds send $930 million to curb ‘crisis’ of US West wildfires – The Associated Press: “Under a strategy now entering its second year, the U.S. Forest Service is trying to prevent out-of-control fires that start on public lands from raging through communities. The idea is to remove many trees and other flammable material from hotspots that make up only a small portion of fire-prone areas but account for about 80% of risk to communities.”
  • 2022 review: Climate philanthropy increased amid growing urgency – Candid: In 2022, large philanthropic commitments were made to support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate the impacts of climate change and support climate justice. However, even among foundations that fund climate initiatives, only 29% allocated at least 20% of their grant dollars to those efforts, according to a Center for Effective Philanthropy report.
  • Study: Somali People ‘Highly Traumatized’ After Years of Conflict – Voice of America: A joint study by the United Nations, Somalia’s health ministry and the Somali National University found that mental disorder is prevalent across the country. The study found that the prevalence of mental disorders among young people is significantly higher than previously reported.
  • Outbreaks to watch: Vaccine-preventable diseases surge post-pandemic – The New Humanitarian: “Vaccination campaigns have proven to be a cost-effective public health tool, with preventative programmes costing far less than humanitarian responses to disease outbreaks. But the pandemic has made it all too clear that global collaboration is needed for them to succeed.”
  • Cash: The King For Disaster Donations – Forbes: CDP’s President and CEO Patty McIlreavy makes the case that cash gives people in need the dignity of choice and agency over their disaster recovery decisions. Cash is cheaper than in-kind donations of goods and products, can be used flexibly as the situation changes, and supports the local economy.
  • Despite Rain Storms, California Is Still in Drought – The New York Times: “A rapid string of punishing storm systems, known as atmospheric rivers, has brought extreme amounts of rain and snow to California during the past weeks, but the sudden deluge has not made up for years of ongoing drought.”

The Rhode Island Department of Health reported it was unable “to definitively confirm or refute the presence of Santa” in a girl’s home after she asked to have a partially eaten cookie and carrot sticks tested for DNA to see if Santa Claus is real. The department did say, “we all agree that something magical may be at play.”