What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, March 20

Earthquake damage in Ecuador, March 19, 2023. (Photo credit: Comunicación Ecuador; via Twitter)

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 March 20, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Earthquake – Ecuador: The U.S. Geological Survey reported an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 just off the Pacific Coast, about 50 miles south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city. The earthquake was also felt in Peru, from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. At least 15 are dead and hundreds injured, with 14 dead in Ecuador and one in Peru. Ecuador’s President, Guillermo Lasso, said dozens of health centers and educational facilities had been damaged. In Peru, authorities reported four collapsed homes, and essential services were undamaged.

Storms – Texas: A powerful storm knocked out power to several thousand and triggered tornado warnings in several areas across north Texas on March 16. The National Weather Service confirmed three EF-1 tornadoes following the storm, two in Irving and another in Corsicana. In addition to the tornadoes, large hail and strong winds combined to cause some damage, including an apartment complex. Meteorologists say another round of severe storms is forecast for March 23, which would be the fourth Thursday in a row the region has experienced such storms.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Storms – California: On March 18, 40 of California’s 58 counties remained under emergency declarations, with little time to spare before the next storm system. Across the state, residents and authorities are grappling with landslides, flooding and snowbanks following weeks of heavy precipitation and a series of storms. California is preparing for a 12th atmospheric river expected to bring additional rain and snow by March 21. Although the next atmospheric river is not expected to be as severe as previous storms, more rain and snow on the heavily saturated ground could cause further damage.

For more, see our California Storms disaster profile.

Tropical Cyclone – Southern Africa: With Tropical Cyclone Freddy dissipated, Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi are beginning the process of clean up, provision of basic needs and support for early recovery. According to authorities in the three countries, Freddy’s death toll has surpassed 500.

Malawi is perhaps the worst affected. The storm’s death toll was up to 447 in the landlocked country, with at least 282 people still missing, according to authorities on March 18. Almost 363,000 people are displaced in 505 camps across flood-affected areas. Protection is a high priority, given the increased risk caused by the storm and related displacement. Cholera and other waterborne diseases are of concern. Mozambique’s health minister said on March 17 that a cholera outbreak in the area hit by Freddy killed eight people and hospitalized 250 that week alone.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) applauded preparation efforts by Mozambique’s government and said the number of deaths and people displaced by the cyclone seemed lower than for past cyclones of similar magnitude. In November 2021, The New Humanitarian (TNH) reported on Mozambique’s climate change adaptation work, both the improvements and the challenges. In the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy, TNH reported on the need for climate-smart agriculture in Malawi.

According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), every $1 invested in risk reduction and prevention can save up to $15 in post-disaster recovery. Yet UNDRR says for every $100 of disaster-related assistance, just 50 cents are invested in protecting development from the impact of disasters. Philanthropy can have a significant impact by investing in recovery, preparedness, mitigation and resilience.

For more, see our Tropical Cyclone Freddy 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.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Chad

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.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “The protracted humanitarian crisis in Chad is becoming more entrenched due to growing food insecurity and malnutrition in some parts of the country; forced displacement; the effects of climate change; and political, socioeconomic, health and sanitation challenges.”

A recent report from UNICEF found progress on adolescent girls’ and women’s nutrition is “too slow and under threat.” According to the report, Chad is one of 12 countries hardest hit by the global food and nutrition crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and ongoing drought, conflict and instability.

Food insecurity affects 6.1 million people in Chad. The situation is worsening, with the country experiencing a third consecutive year of severe food insecurity and its worst lean season in the last 10 years. More than 1.5 million people may be acutely food insecure in the 2023 lean season.

Unprecedented flooding due to heavy rains from July until mid-September 2022 affected 19 out of 23 provinces in the country, displaced hundreds of thousands and damaged more than 864,000 acres (350,000 hectares) of agricultural land. The damage to the agricultural sector could contribute to food insecurity. Recovery needs include livelihood support, infrastructure repair and restoration, and basic services and support for displaced people.

As of March 10, 2023, donors had funded only 60% of Chad’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). Although this is a significant improvement compared to the 34% provided in support of the 2021 HRP, the humanitarian needs outpace available resources.

What We’re Reading

  • Most of eastern US, California coast under flood threats this spring, NOAA says – ABC News: Nearly 1.5 million people on the Mississippi River are under major flood threat this spring. Spring floods are possible across much of California’s coast, and near-record snowfall in the upper Midwest will contribute to flooding there. NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said climate change drives both wet and dry extremes.
  • A Very Wet Winter Has Eased California’s Drought, but Water Woes Remain – The New York Times: “The water issues haven’t gone away,” said Jay Lund, vice director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, “they’re just taking more of a backseat.” Also, California’s historic snowpack this year and increased soil moisture are increasing the potential for spring floods.
  • Opinion: What happened in Pajaro isn’t just a ‘natural’ disaster – Los Angeles Times: Swollen with rain from California’s recent storms, the Pajaro River levee in Monterrey County failed and flooded a small town populated mainly by migrant workers and their families. For decades, government officials have known that the levee was vulnerable “yet never prioritized repairs largely because their cost-benefit analysis didn’t value the losses of a low-income town.”
  • ‘We are still suffering’: Families struggle to find food 6 months from devastating Pakistan floods – Euronews: The price of food is rising due to inflation, and families are being forced to cut back on their meals, with medical staff reporting increased cases of malnutrition. Save the Children is calling on the international community to provide the funding needed to prevent a full-scale hunger crisis.

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