What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, November 7

A car washed down a creek near the township of Adelong after flash flooding and high winds lashed communities in New South Wales, Australia on Oct. 31, 2022. (Source: @NSWRFS 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 Nov. 7, 2022.

New or Emerging Disasters

Tornado Outbreak – U.S. Southern Plains: On Nov. 4, at least 19 preliminary tornado reports were recorded in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas by the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Storm Prediction Center. Twelve of these reports came from Texas. The NWS confirmed an EF-3 tornado with winds up to 160 miles per hour touched down in Powderly, Texas, damaging at least 73 homes and structures. The NWS also determined an EF-2 tornado hit the city of Athens, Texas, while Hopkins County experienced EF-2 and EF-1 twisters. One person was killed in Morris County, about 130 miles east of Dallas.

In Oklahoma, the NWS confirmed that three tornadoes struck Choctaw and Le Flore counties on Nov. 4, including an EF-1 tornado that touched down on the southeast side of Heavener in Le Flore County, damaging several homes and outbuildings. The town of Idabel in McCurtain County was hit particularly hard. Damage assessments are ongoing, but the NWS says multiple tornadoes may have touched down in the county, including one with at least an EF-3 rating. At least 185 structures were damaged in Idabel, and one person was killed. Drone footage captured the extent of tornado damage in the town. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt declared a disaster emergency on Nov. 5 for Bryan, Choctaw, LeFlore and McCurtain counties.

The NWS  has confirmed five tornadoes in Central Arkansas. Damage was reported, but no deaths or injuries.

Chemical Spill – Louisiana: On Nov. 2, a train derailment caused an acid leak and evacuations in St. James Parish, located about 50 miles west of New Orleans. The impacted railcar was carrying around 20,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid, which can irritate the respiratory system. By Nov. 3, all but two of the 150 households forced to evacuate were told it was safe to return home. No injuries were reported.

The area where the derailment occurred has been dubbed “Cancer Alley” for its pollution-emitting chemical plants. In 2021, a group of independent United Nations (UN) human rights experts said further industrialization in southern Louisiana should be halted, branding it a form of environmental racism. The growing path of petrochemical plants has polluted the surrounding water and air and exposed the primarily Black residents in St. James Parish to cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems. St. James Parish also faces high disaster risk and experiences repeat disaster events.

Hurricane – Belize: Hurricane Lisa made landfall along the coast of Belize on Nov. 2 as a Category 1 tropical cyclone. Lisa, the 12th named system of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour). The storm surge pushed waters up to 4 to 7 feet above normally dry land and engulfed many parts of Belize City. Lisa was downgraded to a tropical depression on Nov. 3 as it waned over southwest Mexico.

The country’s National Emergency Management Organization estimated around 172,000 people were affected, close to 39% of the country’s population. No fatalities were reported, but 500 houses have been reported as being destroyed, with an additional 5,000 homes damaged. Belize will request international assistance and has already asked for around $11 million to meet immediate needs.

For more, see our 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season disaster profile.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Flooding – Australia: A weekslong emergency due to heavy rainfall and significant flooding continues to affect eastern parts of the country, including the state of New South Wales (NSW). The towns of Walgett, Collarenebri and Lightning Ridge were isolated by floodwaters, requiring airdrops of food and medicine. There were 16 emergency warnings in place across NSW on the morning of Nov. 7. Major flooding was ongoing in Forbes, where the Lachlan River was slightly below record levels. In Victoria, 39 warnings and advice messages were in place across the state. On Nov. 7, floodwaters continued to rise along the Murray River. Evacuations and rescues were taking place over the weekend.

Australia’s east is experiencing the fourth major flood crisis this year due to a multi-year La Niña weather phenomenon. Human Rights Watch says the Australian authorities failed to protect people most at risk from the harm of the flooding in the NSW town of Lismore in February 2022.

Flooding – Pakistan: The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) has been completed. It estimates damages, economic losses and recovery needs following the disaster and assesses broader macro-economic and human impacts. The PDNA shows that Pakistan’s poverty rate may increase by 3.7 to 4.0 percentage points, potentially pushing up to 9.1 million more people below the poverty line.

This alarming statistic demonstrates the importance of restoring and strengthening livelihoods. Seeds and fertilizers are needed ahead of the upcoming agricultural season, and protecting livestock is critical given that the floods damaged or destroyed more than 2.1 million homes. Rehabilitating homes and distributing items that help people prepare for winter are also needed.

For more, see the 2022 Pakistan Floods disaster profile.

Tropical Storm – Philippines: According to the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), as of Nov. 7, the death toll from Tropical Storm Nalgae, known locally as Paeng, had risen to 156. Among the hardest hit areas was the province of Maguindanao in the Bangsamoro autonomous region in the southern Philippines.

Stronger storms than Nalgae hit the Philippines in 2022, but the storm’s extreme rainfall caused significant flooding. The storm triggered a devastating landslide in the village of Kusiong, which damaged homes and killed dozens. After moving across the Philippines, Nalgae made its way to Hong Kong, where some classes were canceled, and buses and ferries were temporarily stopped. However, no significant damage was reported there.

In addition to the disasters listed above, we are actively monitoring the following disasters or humanitarian emergencies. For more information, see the relevant disaster profiles, which are updated regularly.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Myanmar

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.

Myanmar’s military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, declaring fraud in the general election won by the National League for Democracy. Since the military’s takeover, the country has endured ongoing armed conflict, large-scale displacement and increased humanitarian needs.

According to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, there are widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population and mounting evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In October, the UN special envoy for Myanmar told the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee that the military is using disproportionate force, including bombings, burnings of homes and buildings, and killing civilians.

On Oct. 23, a military airstrike killed 60 people, including musicians, and targeted a concert held by a rebel faction of the country’s minority Kachin ethnic group. Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the airstrike is an apparent violation of the laws of war. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a human rights organization, as of Nov. 4, 2,413 civilians have been killed since the military coup.

Large-scale military operations in Rakhine State are expected to increase displacement and humanitarian needs as Myanmar’s military responds aggressively to increased control in the state by the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed organization based there. More than 1.1 million people have been displaced since the military coup in February 2021.

The ongoing conflict and inflation continue to result in food insecurity. An estimated 15.2 million people are now severely and moderately food insecure.

A recent law passed by Myanmar’s junta gives it broad powers over aid delivery, which may further limit aid agencies’ ability to reach affected people with humanitarian assistance. The 2022 Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) remains severely underfunded, with less support received so far in 2022 than at the same time in 2021, despite the surge in needs and inflation. Donors have provided only 22.5% of the $825.7 million requested in the HRP.

The Rohingya people have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence in Rakhine State. Violent attacks led hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in 2017. A recent increase in violence within camps in Cox’s Bazar has added to the significant challenges the Rohingya people face.

What We’re Reading

  • Urgent Philanthropic Action Is Needed as the Nation’s Water Crisis Claims Lives and Livelihoods – The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Climate mitigation and advocacy remain underfunded, including minimal support for water-conservation efforts. Philanthropy can “prioritize climate-resilience strategies that help communities endure current conditions, adapt to long-term changes, and transform as needed along the way.”
  • Here’s Where the U.S. Is Testing a New Response to Rising Seas – The New York Times: “The federal government has been quietly trying to shift its approach away from endlessly rebuilding after disasters and toward helping the most exposed communities retreat from vulnerable areas. But moving is expensive, and as disasters intensify, demand from communities to relocate will only increase, straining the government’s ability to pay for it.”
  • Analysis: Africa’s unreported extreme weather in 2022 and climate change – Carbon Brief: Combining United Nations humanitarian reports and local news stories with data from the Emergency Events Database, Carbon Brief found that extreme weather events in Africa have killed at least 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million since the start of 2022. Yet, the impacts of some events on the continent go unrecorded, especially for heat waves.
  • ‘More dignity’: aid organisations switch to cash in drought-hit Ethiopia – The Guardian: In 2020, cash and vouchers worth $6 billion accounted for about 19% of humanitarian aid, up from less than 1% in 2004. Cash is faster and more efficient than distributing goods, helps stimulate local economies and allows people to choose what they most need. However, humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, and many other global crises, is underfunded.

Cempasúchil flowers are one type used during Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. Meet the families that harvest these flowers.