What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 8

Japan's Self-Defense Forces look for survivors after the earthquake, Jan. 3, 2024. (Source: Ministry of Defense 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. 8, 2024.

New or Emerging Disasters

Earthquake – Japan: On New Year’s Day, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) near the northern coast of the Noto Peninsula on the west coast of Honshu, Japan. The earthquake struck on a day when families typically gather in Japan. The Japanese Meteorological Agency issued a major tsunami warning, which was later reduced to an advisory. As of Jan. 8, the number of confirmed dead is 168, with 323 more listed as missing.

Wajima, a city in Ishikawa Prefecture, was among the areas most affected by the earthquake. Seventy of the confirmed dead were killed in Wajima, and dramatic images revealed the devastation there, where buildings were smoldering from a fire that the earthquake had sparked.

After the initial quake, dozens of aftershocks were recorded and may continue for the next month. Authorities warned of the potential for landslides, exacerbated recently by heavy snowfall.

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 three hours, yet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that the fire destroyed almost 800 shelters within that time, with another 93 partially damaged.

Approximately 120 other facilities, including learning centers, mosques, healthcare centers, latrines and water points, were also damaged.

Humanitarian agency Save the Children says around 7,000 Rohingya refugees, including at least 4,200 children, are now homeless due to the fire. Attacks and human rights violations forced thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, to flee their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Floods – United Kingdom: Major rivers across England and Wales were flooded on Jan. 5 after heavy rain from Storm Henk. The government has issued more than 300 flood warnings, and at least 1,000 homes have been damaged thus far.

The Environment Agency said almost the entire Surrey stretch of the River Thames is at risk of bursting its banks. Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire continue to be impacted, and parts of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire have seen increased river levels. The Wiltshire Council leader said flooding there was the worst he has seen.

Areas affected by flooding will be able to apply for funds from the government to pay for recovery, and flooded households are eligible for $637 (£500) in cash to help with immediate needs.

Floods – France and Germany: Much of northern, central and eastern Germany, and Brittany and Nord-Pas-de-Calais in France have seen flooding in the past week after heavy rainfall.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony last week to inspect the damage and flood preparations. In Lower Saxony, the floods have affected most farms.

In France, rescue crews evacuated residents in Arques in the Pas-de-Calais department. That region has now been flooded for the second time in two months. In Pas-de-Calais, around 189 municipalities have been affected by the most recent flooding, and at least 1,299 homes have been damaged. Flood containment equipment, vehicles and pumps have been sent to Germany and France from other European Union members.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Floods – Northeast U.S.: A major storm brought heavy rainfall from Pennsylvania to Maine on Dec. 19, resulting in flooding. The National Weather Service recorded more than five inches of rain in parts of New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania, and portions of several other states got more than four inches.

The disaster left at least six people dead and thousands without power. Crews conducted water rescues in New Jersey and Vermont, including towns still recovering from floods in July.

Another powerful storm is expected to hit the Northeast early this week, bringing the risk of more flooding and damaging winds.

Complex Humanitarian Emergency – Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s complex humanitarian emergency is among the most persistent and severe. Millions of Afghans endure the consequences of four decades of conflict, poverty, repeated disasters and an economic downturn. In 2024, more than half of Afghanistan’s population will require humanitarian assistance.

The Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan 2024 incorporated priorities identified by Afghans. Communities highlighted food as a top need, in addition to health care services, education and water, sanitation and hygiene. Nearly half of households emphasized the importance of livelihood support.

For more, see our Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis disaster profile.

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:

  • In December, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum declared a statewide emergency for widespread utility infrastructure damage caused by a severe winter ice storm.
  • The Legal Services Corporation launched the Heartland Disaster Help website, which will help residents of Kansas and nine other states see their risk level for several natural hazards.

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.

On Dec. 20, Congolese went to the polls to elect their new president, marking the first election after a democratic transition of power since independence. Ahead of the election, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project described a context of disorder and distrust.

The country’s election commission announced President Felix Tshisekedi won re-election with more than 70% of the vote. However, the election saw several irregularities. Tshisekedi faces the challenge of progressing on several key issues, including ending persistent insecurity, creating jobs and fighting corruption.

The intensification of conflict due to the active presence of armed groups and the deterioration of the security situation in several territories in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri has worsened the humanitarian situation there and increased displacement. Around 5.5 million people experience acute food insecurity in these three provinces, and cases of cholera and measles are on the rise.

Additionally, the increase in extreme weather events claims lives, destroys livelihoods and assets, and drives hunger. Some say the 2023 floods were the most severe since the last major flooding in Kinshasa in 1961. According to the World Food Programme, “Variations in rainfall [in DRC] severely damage income opportunities, plummeting communities into poverty and food insecurity.”

Join us this Thursday, Jan. 11

Webinar: Race and poverty: Connecting disparities, disasters and equitable recovery

What We’re Reading

  • Trends driving humanitarian need in 2024 (and what to do about them) – The New Humanitarian: Seven key trends likely to leave millions of people in need of food, medical care, shelter, or other humanitarian aid over the next year; plus, some ideas on what governments, aid groups, or individuals might do differently so 2025 looks a little better.
  • 2023 in Nine Charts: A Growing Inequality – The World Bank: If 2022 was a year of uncertainty, 2023 is the year of inequality. This article examines how the world fared in addressing some of the most pressing development concerns and priorities.
  • Climate change, costly disasters sent Texas homeowner insurance rates skyrocketing this year – The Texas Tribune: Through November, Texas rates increased 22% on average, twice the national rate. More billion-dollar disasters have occurred in Texas in 2023 than any other year on record.
  • Marshall Fire recovery: Who’s home, who isn’t and why – Boulder Weekly: Two years after the Marshall Fire, nearly 300 households have moved back into rebuilt homes. While the figure is not insignificant, many households still have not rebuilt.
  • Kansas may face 30 more days yearly of high wildfire risk as its climate changes – Iowa Public Radio: A changing climate may bring many more days per year of extreme wildfire risk to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Guo Yu, an assistant research professor at the Desert Research Institute, said, “In the future, when we have a drier and warmer winter, there’s a high probability wildfire could occur.”

The Averted Disaster Award recognizes successful disaster mitigation interventions that go unnoticed precisely because of their success. The 2023 winner was Amrita Center for Wireless Networks & Applications for their efforts in landslide monitoring and early warning.