What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, March 6

Flooding in Segamat city, Johor, Malaysia on March 2, 2023. (Photo credit: Fire & Rescue Department of Malaysia; via Facebook - Agensi Pengurusan Bencana Negara, Jabatan Perdana Menteri Halaman)

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 6, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Fire – Bangladesh: On March 5, a large and devastating fire broke out in Kutupalong Balukhali refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The fire injured fifteen people and displaced more than 12,000. The fire destroyed around 2,000 shelters, and affected refugees lost all their belongings. Approximately one million Rohingya people displaced from Rakhine State, Myanmar, live in the camp settlement.

The fire occurred days after the World Food Programme announced that a $125 million funding shortfall was forcing it to lower the value of its monthly food vouchers in camps from $12 to $10 per head as of March 1. The UN agency and humanitarian agencies warn that this will lead to a rise in malnutrition and negative coping mechanisms. On March 2, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar called on states to reverse “the shameful, catastrophic cuts” to food rations for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Flooding – Malaysia: The southern Malay Peninsula continues to be affected by heavy rainfall and widespread floods, resulting in evacuations and damage. Johor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang and Selangor are the most affected states. As of March 6, more than 46,000 people were displaced in 250 evacuation centers. The government of Malaysia deployed the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team.

Floods in Malaysia are common during the monsoon season between October and March, but the recent heavy rainfall left many residents struggling to find shelter. A resident in Johor state told Reuters, “We used to always prepare for the rainy season in November and December. Each household had a boat, but now with the unpredictable weather, it seems that we are not prepared and it’s become chaotic.” The flooding killed at least four people.

Severe Storms – U.S. South: Last week’s powerful storm system produced strong winds, tornadoes, hail and flooding from Texas to the Tennessee Valley and across the South. Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm system was a multi-hazard event. Hundreds of thousands of customers lost power in Texas and several other southern states. Damages were reported across the multi-state region.

At least 13 people died in multiple states due to the severe weather, including at least five Kentuckians, according to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. Six tornadoes were reported on March 2, including five in Texas and one in Louisiana.

Tropical Cyclone – Vanuatu: Within a two-day period, the island nation in the South Pacific Ocean endured two tropical cyclones and a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that occurred just off the island of Espiritu Santo. Tropical Cyclone Judy hit Vanuatu on March 1 and was followed by Kevin on March 3, which packed maximum sustained winds of over 96 miles per hour (155 kilometers per hour) and brought heavy rainfall.

IFRC reported on March 4 that roads were damaged and downed power lines disrupted communication, especially in remote communities. Tanna island in the province of Tafea is expected to be the worst affected, and recovery needs will be significant. More than 251,000 people are estimated to be impacted by the cyclones, which is more than 80% of Vanuatu’s population.

According to Save the Children, in Shefa province alone, which includes the nation’s capital, Port Vila, around 50,000 children were impacted. UNICEF said that many schools and healthcare facilities had been affected, with considerable damage reported, including the airport. Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau declared a state of emergency. Vanuatu is among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. More than 100 countries support Vanuatu’s bid to bring climate change to the International Court of Justice.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Tropical Cyclone – Madagascar and Mozambique: Record-breaking Tropical Cyclone Freddy formed on Feb. 3 northwest of Australia before traveling across the entire Indian Ocean to become the first Category 5 storm in this Southwest Indian Ocean cyclone season. It also broke the record for the highest accumulated cyclone energy ever recorded. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, no tropical cyclones have taken such a path across the Indian Ocean in the past two decades.

Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall on Madagascar’s eastern coast, near Mananjary, on Feb. 21. Freddy then moved across the Mozambique Channel and made landfall in Mozambique’s Inhambane province on Feb. 24. In Madagascar, 226,000 people were affected in the Vatovavy region with 78,000 people facing immediate food insecurity. The destruction of livelihoods could result in the deterioration of the food security situation.

Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management estimated that 1.75 million people are affected by Freddy. Continued rainfall on top of initial flooding threatens critical road infrastructure, crops, housing and public buildings like schools and health facilities. The flooding also increases the risk of cholera spreading at a time when Mozambique is struggling to deal with an outbreak. United Nations officials say accurate early warnings and early action helped limit the loss of life.

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:

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Central African Republic (CAR)

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 underlying socio-political crisis in CAR means that a significant portion of the population continues to face a humanitarian crisis, particularly in areas outside of urban centers. Violence against civilians and insecurity drive Central Africans into displacement. More than one in five Central Africans are displaced within or in neighboring countries.

Attacks on Central African Armed Forces and civilians by armed groups present protection concerns, disrupt livelihoods and impede efforts at a national dialogue. In January 2023, humanitarian personnel and assets were affected by 13 incidents.

CAR’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) says 3.4 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection, a 10% increase compared to 2022. The HRP targets 2.4 million people in need and seeks $465 million to implement life-saving interventions.

The presence of armed groups limits access to agricultural land in a country where 80% of people get their livelihood from farming. Food insecurity and malnutrition are significant concerns. Around 2.7 million people need immediate food assistance. If commodity prices and transport costs keep increasing, more people will likely become food insecure.

What We’re Reading

  • Sarah Mukasa on African philanthropy and why trust matters – Alliance: Ese Emerhi interviews Sarah Mukasa, Division Director, Women’s Rights at Open Society-Africa, after her plenary session on Strengthening an Infrastructure for African Philanthropy at the African Philanthropy Network Assembly.
  • How the earthquakes compounded Syria’s shelter crisis – The New Humanitarian: “Last month’s deadly earthquakes have made an already massive shelter crisis in northwest Syria much worse, with both aid groups and newly displaced people concerned that long-term efforts to rehouse millions in the battered region have been set back years.”
  • The South’s winter of tornadoes could be just a prelude to storm season – The Washington Post: Residents in the central U.S. and Deep South, already weary and recovering from record winter tornado activity, face new threats of severe weather. Disasters are no longer confined to the bounds of traditional seasons, and preparedness is critical.
  • FEMA delays leave many Hurricane Ian victims exasperated nearly five months after the disastrous storm – CNN: FEMA says it has provided more than $970 million in individual aid, including assistance with rent and repairs for tens of thousands of households. Yet, out of nearly 3,000 households approved for direct housing since Hurricane Ian, only 225 had received it when this article was written.
  • New research shows where wildfire mitigation can be highly cost effective – Headwaters Economics: New research from economists Patrick Baylis and Judson Boomhower “shows that expected wildfire protection costs, on average, are highest in rural parts of the [American] West where home density is relatively low.” Headwaters Economics says, “Every western state has neighborhoods where an upfront investment in mitigation would go a long way in reducing response and recovery costs paid by taxpayers.”
  • Revealed: the US is averaging one chemical accident every two days – The Guardian: A Guardian analysis of data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency and nonprofit groups that track chemical accidents in the U.S. shows that accidental releases are happening consistently across the country.

A cartoon iguana named Iggy, created by the Fijian National Disaster Management Office, is helping children there understand disaster risk and how they can keep themselves and their families safe.