What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, March 4

The Smokehouse Creek Fire burning in Texas on Feb. 27, 2024. (Photo credit: Texas A&M Forest Service 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 March 4, 2024.

New or Emerging Disasters

Complex Humanitarian Emergency – Burkina Faso: On Feb. 25, three villages in northern Burkina Faso were attacked, and around 170 people were executed. On the same day, a separate attack on a mosque and church left over 15 civilians dead.

Armed non-state actors (ANSA) launched a series of attacks and have targeted civilian infrastructure, places of worship and schools, triggering more displacement and insecurity. Currently, about 40 population centers are cut off by blockades due to ANSA control,  restricting the movement of over 800,000 people and limiting humanitarian access to those in need.

The country is deemed “the world’s most neglected crisis.” It is currently fourth on the International Rescue Committee’s 2024 Watchlist, which assesses countries at the most significant risk of new humanitarian emergencies.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 6.3 million people will need humanitarian aid in 2024, and $935 million will be required to meet urgent needs.

Drought – Zambia: A national disaster and emergency was declared on Feb. 29 as severe drought debilitated Zambia’s food production and electricity generation. This comes following a deadly cholera outbreak in October 2023, which killed more than 400 people and infected over 10,000.

The drought has destroyed over 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of agricultural land, affecting water availability and energy supply for over 84 out of 116 districts. The dry spell will continue into March and hurt over 1 million farming households, exacerbating livelihoods and food security. To mitigate some of the impacts, security forces have been instructed to focus on food production, and the country plans to import more food, electricity and ration supplies, according to President Hakainde Hichilema.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says countries such as Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in southern Africa are experiencing the driest February in the last 40 years.

Flooding – Pakistan: Persistent heavy rain since Feb. 27 has damaged over 250 buildings and left at least 36 people dead and 50 others injured across northwest Pakistan. The provincial disaster management authority says many women and children were among the dead and wounded.

The port city of Gwadar received over 180 mm (7 inches) of rain within two days, rendering hundreds of people homeless while buildings collapsed and major roads flooded.

Schools across the region are closed until March 7, and paramilitary forces and local authorities are currently engaged in rescue operations, relief efforts and dewatering of urban flood areas.

In addition to Gwadar, other districts, such as Sindh, have also issued a state of emergency. Moderate to heavy rainfall is expected in the next 24 hours.

Wildfire – Oklahoma and Texas: The Smokehouse Creek Fire is now the biggest fire ever in the state and the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history, as of Feb. 29. The fire has burned more than a million acres in Texas, nearly 32,000 acres in Oklahoma since Feb. 26 and has only 15% containment. As many as 500 homes and structures have been destroyed in Texas, while Oklahoma local media report 13 burned houses.

Governor Greg Abbott issued disaster declarations for 60 counties in response to the Smokehouse Creek Fire and three other active fires. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports mandatory evacuation orders for 6,500 people across the affected area.

With record-breaking high temperatures and dry, windy conditions expected as March begins, there is a significant wildfire threat, according to the Texas A&M Forest Services. As of March 4, two known casualties have been reported.

For more, see our 2024 North American Wildfires.

Winter storm – CaliforniaBlizzard warnings were in place through most of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains through March 3. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of snow and winds between 70 and 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) were expected in the mountains. In addition to blizzard warnings, avalanche warnings were also issued in and around Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Lakes.

The winter storm shut down 100 miles of the main highway, Interstate 80, on Friday, March 1, and it remained closed until March 4. Almost 40,000 households and businesses were without power through the weekend.

Despite blizzard conditions, California water officials believe the storm will bring much-needed snow to the Sierra region, vital to the state’s water supplies.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Earthquake – Nepal: On Nov. 3, 2023, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Jajarkot district, Nepal, at midnight, followed by several strong aftershocks. The earthquakes resulted in at least 153 deaths, out of which 81 were children, and as many as 69,000 buildings destroyed or damaged.

On the 100-day anniversary, Feb. 11, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that 68,000 children and families still need urgent aid. More than 200,000 people spent a harsh winter under tents and thin tarpaulins. Due to the earthquake damage, almost 900 school buildings were destroyed, severely impacting the education of 134,00 school-aged children. UNICEF issued an appeal for $14.7 million to provide support and supplies and help rebuild the lives of affected children.

This comes after the United States announced $1.37 million to support recovery in addition to their prior investment in disaster risk reduction and resilience since 2019. This includes long-term recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

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 – Haiti 

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 March 4, Haiti’s government declared a 72-hour state of emergency. It imposed a curfew following months of escalation in violence and protests calling on removing acting prime minister Ariel Henry. This comes after armed groups stormed two central prisons, which saw an estimated 4,000 prisoners escape.

Over 1,108 people were killed, kidnapped or injured in January 2024. In 2023, the country saw more than 8,400 deaths due to gang violence – a 122% increase since 2022. Analysts say violence has been escalating after Jimmy Cherizier, head of an alliance of gangs, called for criminal groups to unite and overthrow Prime Minister Henry. The situation is especially dire in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where up to 80% of the city is under gang control. The acting prime minister postponed plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections shortly after coming to power following the assassination of former Prime Minister Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Violence has worsened humanitarian conditions in all communes of Port-au-Prince since February 2024. Over 10,000 were forced to flee their homes within the first ten days of the month, and attacks have intensified in several communes, disrupting economic activities and limiting access to affordable food, medical services and education.

Humanitarian agencies like the World Food Programme reported that recent violence has prevented the agency from reaching more than 370,000 people urgently needing food. This comes after Medicines San Frontiers indefinitely suspended work at an emergency medical center in the capital following an armed group attack on a patient.

Compounding current violence, Haiti has been experiencing a fuel shortage and increased food prices in the western departments since the first week of January 2024.

Upcoming webinar

March 14: From pets to heroes: The role of animals in disaster response and recovery

What We’re Reading

  • California’s polluted communities could miss out on billions under state’s flawed system – CalMatters: According to researchers, California’s environmental health screening tool skews which communities are designated as disadvantaged. While some groups are overrepresented, some immigrant and communities of color neighborhoods could be left out.
  • Himalayan region grapples with climate crisis, state of India’s environment 2024 report warns – Times of India: The Himalayan region of India has become the epicenter of climate-related disasters accounting for 44% of all reported incidents. The dire state of the Himalayas and subsequent consequences highlight the need for urgent action and sustainable development.
  • Scientists grow ‘meaty’ rice hybrid food for protein kick – BBC: Scientists have created a new type of hybrid food that could offer an affordable and eco-friendly source of protein as an alternative to traditional animal products.
  • What is polycrisis philanthropy? – Devex: A rise in adopting the polycrisis philanthropy model to address multiple global crises requires a mindset change for most funders to acknowledge systems and values and envision work on both local and regional levels. A holistic approach to helping communities deal with multiple crises rather than one issue drives polycrisis philanthropy.

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Tenzin Kyizom

Tenzin Kyizom

Strategy, Innovation and Special Projects Content Development Associate