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

As many as 2,541 people have been rescued following severe flooding in the Dominican Republic from Nov. 17 to Nov. 19, 2023. (Credit: Defensa Civil Dominicana via Facebook)

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 Nov. 20, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Earthquake – Philippines: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake shook the southern Philippines on Nov. 17. The quake’s epicenter was 16 miles (27 kilometers) west-southwest of Burias. Ceilings fell at SM City General Santos Mall and Robinsons GenSan Mall, with both announcing temporary closures. The Office of Civil Defense’s Nov. 20 Situation Report said the quake affected 12,885 people, killed nine and damaged 826 houses.

Flooding – Dominican Republic: Rainfall from a tropical depression caused significant flooding, with most of the nation’s 32 provinces still under red and yellow weather alerts on Nov. 20. In addition to damaging infrastructure and homes, the floods resulted in at least 21 deaths, including three children. Among the fatalities were four U.S. nationals and three from neighboring Haiti. The country’s Emergency Operations Center said more than 13,000 people were forced to leave their homes and were moved to more secure locations. President Luis Abinader said it is the “largest rainfall event” in the Dominican Republic’s history.

Heat wave – Brazil: The start of the southern hemisphere’s summer is still a month away. However, large parts of Brazil were under red alert this week by the national meteorological institute, which warned of risks to health and even life.

Rio de Janeiro recorded 108.5 Fahrenheit (42.5 Celsius) on Nov. 19, a record for November. More than a hundred million people have been affected by the heat, which may last until at least Nov. 24. A 23-year-old fan died during Taylor Swift’s show in Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 17.

The heat wave has shown Brazil’s social inequalities, which are increasingly heightened by extreme weather events. Poorer areas are among the hottest, and residents are more likely to suffer from power and water outages.

Wildfire – U.S. South: In recent weeks, multiple states in the southern U.S. have experienced wildfires amid dry conditions brought on by prolonged drought. The Poplar Drive Fire in North Carolina destroyed at least two homes but was 100% contained as of Nov. 19.

Multiple fires in Virginia prompted Governor Glenn Youngkin to declare a state of emergency on Nov. 7 that is effective for 30 days. The Matts Creek wildfire is burning in the James River Face Wilderness, and smoke from that blaze has become a health issue for the communities across the region.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Flooding – France: Record rainfall since early November has caused rivers to crest their banks, leading the government to declare an official state of emergency in hundreds of towns and villages in northern and eastern France. After two storms saturated the soil, another low-pressure system exacerbated conditions. Some roads have become impassable, with authorities closing schools in some affected areas last week. The regions of Pas-de-Calais and Haute-Savoie are among the worst affected. The mayor of Saint-Léonard, Gwenaëlle Loire, said, “People have lost everything,” describing their community as a “ghost town.”

Volcano – Iceland: According to the Icelandic Met Office on Nov. 20, “Since midnight today, over 700 earthquakes have been detected in the region of the magma intrusion, the largest of which was magnitude 2.7 near to Hagafell.”

Iceland’s civil defense chief said that an eruption could happen anywhere along the magma dyke. Officials say their first priority is protecting the Svartsengi power plant. Last week, the fishing town of Grindavik in southwest Iceland was evacuated, and those residents may be waiting months before being able to return whether an eruption occurs or not.

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:

  • On Nov. 14, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for four Arkansas counties in response to the severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes from June 25-26.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated Lewis and Clark and Powell Counties as primary disaster areas in Montana. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, these counties suffered “extreme or exceptional drought” for eight or more weeks during last year’s growing season.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Central African Republic 

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.

People in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to face insecurity and threats, with one in five Central Africans internally displaced or a refugee in neighboring countries. In 2023, humanitarians identified 2.4 million people as extremely vulnerable.

The year 2023 marks a decade since a full-scale civil war erupted in CAR. The long-running conflict and subsequent violence have had a significant impact on civilians. On Nov. 2, rebels attacked a town in northwest CAR, killing at least five civilians.

The recently published food security snapshot from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said, “People experiencing high acute food insecurity are mainly those living in situations of displacement as well as than those affected by armed groups’ activities.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the humanitarian situation “in the CAR is volatile, and regions once considered stable can suddenly shift into humanitarian emergency zones.” Humanitarians are adapting due to the context and support for displaced people voluntarily returning to their place of origin is a priority.

As of Sept. 30, donors had funded only 46.4% of CAR’s Humanitarian Response Plan, leaving a shortfall of $285.8 million.

Upcoming webinar

Dec. 14: Strangers in a strange land: Migrants and disasters in the US

What We’re Reading

  • More Than 3 Million Americans Were Displaced by a ‘Natural’ Disaster in the Past Year. How Can We Prepare for Our Climate Future? – Urban Institute: Andrew Rumbach and Sara McTarnaghan summarize and analyze the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent Household Pulse Survey. The survey data “emphasize the range of needs that will need to be met if the US is going to achieve its climate resilience goals.”
  • Exclusive: COP28 declaration to tie climate funding to conflict for the first time – The New Humanitarian: “The COP28 presidency will call for immediate action and ‘urgent’ funding to help communities hit by conflict and climate change, according to a draft declaration being circulated ahead of the upcoming climate summit.”
  • Why activists want philanthropists to pay climate reparations – Devex: Although the UN’s COP28 meeting will be about nations negotiating on how to navigate the climate crisis, “activists say philanthropists have a role to play in the process because they can support and provide funding to drive solutions agreed there.”
  • Heat projected to kill nearly five times more people by 2050 – France24: According to The Lancet Countdown, an annual assessment by researchers and institutions, “lethal heat was just one of the many ways the world’s still-increasing use of fossil fuels threatens human health.”
  • Hit by floods and drought, quarter of Somali people at risk of ‘crisis-level’ hunger, WFP says – Reuters: Petroc Wilton, WFP spokesperson for Somalia, said, “This bombardment of climate shocks, from drought to floods, will prolong the hunger crisis in Somalia. The drought killed millions of livestock and ruined countless hectares of pastures and farmlands. Now, these devastating floods are crippling Somalia’s ability to recover.”
  • Evictions in Houston After Hurricane Harvey – January Advisors: David McClendon revisits the question of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on evictions in Houston with the benefit of six years of hindsight. McClendon says the analysis highlights a lesson for local authorities: “the importance of maintaining a long-term focus on housing initiatives after a natural disaster, even after the immediate crisis has passed.”

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