What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 11

Rescue teams work to clear debris after the Morocco earthquake.
Rescue teams work to clear debris after the Morocco earthquake. Photo: Via Twitter @moroccangov

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 Sept. 11, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Earthquake – Morocco: On Sept. 8, a 6.8-magnitude quake hit central Morocco. The earthquake’s epicenter was in the High Atlas Mountains, southwest of Marrakesh, in a rural area with many residences vulnerable to shaking. The U.S. Geological Survey said, “Due to the shallow depth of the event and its proximity to high population centers, many buildings experienced severe shaking that can result in catastrophic failure.”

The earthquake, combined with the structural vulnerabilities of buildings described above, killed at least 2,497 people as of early afternoon local time on Sept. 11. Authorities say nearly 2,500 others were injured. Some towns were inaccessible because of debris-blocked roads. Government authorities are leading the response efforts, and at the time of writing, no formal request for international assistance has been made.

In their Flash Update #2, published on Sept. 10, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said, “Several aftershocks have been reported, families still trapped under the rubble of their homes, road blockages and difficult geographic conditions remain challenging to conduct search and rescue interventions.” The Sept. 10 Flash Update also reported that initial assessments show that water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter, health and food assistance are required.

Cyclone – Brazil: Last week’s storm brought strong winds and floods to the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, leaving dozens of towns underwater. The storm left at least 37 dead and thousands forced from their homes. More than 11 inches of rain hit Rio Grande do Sul in less than 24 hours. Damage from the storm was reported in 79 municipalities across Rio Grande do Sul, the state government said in a statement. The governor of Rio Grande do Sul said it was the state’s worst-ever weather disaster.

Floods – Bulgaria: Heavy rainfall resulted in floods on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, with Tsarevo hardest hit. The disaster left four people dead and caused extensive damage. A state of emergency was declared in Tsarevo municipality on Sept. 5.

Veselin Angelov, a member of the board of the Association of Bulgarian Insurers, told BNR that few people in the region’s affected area have property insurance, which will affect survivors’ recovery. As of Sept. 11, a ban on drinking tap water in Tsarevo municipality remained in effect after tests showed it was still unsafe.

Storm – Greece: Torrential rain from a storm named Daniel has caused devastating flooding across central Greece. Authorities said some areas received twice the average annual rainfall in 12 hours. The disaster led to the deaths of at least 10 people.

On Sept. 9, a fire department spokesperson said 2,850 people had been rescued. Satellite imagery shows how some towns are unrecognizable when comparing before and after. In addition to flooding homes and property, the flooding destroyed thousands of hectares of agricultural land and livestock. The Thessaly Plain accounts for more than 25% of the country’s agricultural production and has been transformed into a lake.

Storm – Libya: Mediterranean storm Daniel continued its path of destruction when it passed through eastern Libya over the weekend of Sept. 9, bringing floods and leaving at least 150 people dead, according to the Red Crescent. According to medical sources, the death toll is expected to increase as dozens remain missing. Images on social media showed flooded houses and roads across eastern Libya.

Witnesses said the water level had reached 10 feet in the coastal city of Derna. Derna, the worst hit area, was inaccessible and local media reported there was no electricity or communications. Ossama Hamad, the prime minister of the east Libya government, declared Derna a disaster zone and announced three days of mourning.

The BBC explains, “Since 2014, Libya has been divided into competing political and military factions based in different parts of the country.” Deadly fighting between the two largest armed groups in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in late August served as a reminder of how severe the security situation is. Most migrants and refugees go through Libya on their journey towards Europe. For years, migrants and refugees have endured abuses that are well documented.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Wildfires – Canada: The National Wildland Fire Preparedness Level was reduced to Level 4 after months at Level 5, the nation’s highest level of wildfire activity. Level 4 is described as involving three or more geographic areas experiencing large, complex wildfires requiring Incident Management Teams.

Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, with over 64,000 miles, or an area equivalent to four Switzerlands, of burnt land. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said some of the blazes could remain active through the winter season. A persistent drought in British Columbia, the province with the most active fires as of Sept. 10, also has officials concerned.

For more, see our 2023 North American Wildfires disaster profile.

Wildfires – Hawaii: One month after the deadly wildfires that destroyed the town of Lahaina and other areas in Maui, the number of missing people has dropped to 66. The confirmed number of fatalities remains at 115. The cause of the fire has not been officially determined. The County of Maui has launched a website (mauirecovers.com) for recovery efforts related to the fires with information for survivors.

Funder Hui serves Hawaii’s philanthropic community as its first association of funders and philanthropy-serving organization and has compiled resources, including funding opportunities and mutual aid in Maui. Funder Hui is also hosting an emergency funder briefing call on Fridays.

For more, see our 2023 North American Wildfires disaster profile.

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.

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:

  • Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a state of disaster emergency proclamation last week for wildfires in Kearny County, in the southwestern part of the state. The Kansas Forest Service provided aerial services since ground crews had been unable to access the wildfire due to rough terrain.
  • Wildfires in Canada continue to produce smoke that drifts into the U.S. Last week, nearly all of Montana was blanketed with smoke, prompting public health officials to warn residents across the state to limit their time outdoors.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – The Sahel Regional Crisis

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.

In 2023, 34.5 million people in the Sahel need humanitarian assistance. The Sahel is a semi-arid region of western and north-central Africa and is one of the world’s most crisis-prone areas. The region experiences droughts, floods and land degradation that threaten livelihoods, and needs are exacerbated by armed conflict and violence.

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project identified several key violent and military events across the region in August. The persistence of conflict in the Sahel contributes to widespread and devastating humanitarian impacts, including food insecurity, displacement and disruption to education.

The UN Children’s Fund says, “A combination of protracted armed conflict, internal displacement, and restricted humanitarian access risks pushing nearly one million children under the age of 5 in Mali into acute malnutrition by December 2023.”

In Chad, the influx of Sudanese refugees is exacerbating the food crisis in the eastern region of the country and inter-community conflicts in the south are disrupting the agricultural calendar. According to FEWS NET, while not the most likely scenario, a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) will persist in Djibo, Burkina Faso until at least January 2024.

The Sahel also endures the extremes of a changing climate. Heavy rainfall in recent weeks has caused floods in Chad and northern Nigeria, and rain has caused rivers to rise in central Mali and northern Senegal. However, FEWS NET says as the West African monsoon concludes, continued poor rainfall could lead to drought.

As of Aug. 28, donors had funded only $1.3 billion of the needed $4.6 billion to assist the 22.9 million individuals across the Sahel in 2023. According to UNOCHA, “Urgent contributions from donors are essential for immediate relief and sustaining vital services such as water provision, sanitation, food security, malnutrition interventions, and emergency education initiatives.”

Upcoming webinar

Oct. 12: Disaster case management: Navigating recovery one person at a time

What We’re Reading

  • America’s Fire Spotters Aren’t Ready to Fade Away Just Yet – The New York Times: “Officials say the future of wildfire detection is cameras. But in northwest Montana, solitary humans on mountaintops still do more than machines alone can offer.”
  • Mobile homes could be a climate solution. So why don’t they get more respect? – Grist: Cultural stigma surrounding mobile home parks is a reason for issues regarding resource allocation, zoning issues and not being considered. However, mobile homes represent an important source of affordable housing in many communities and are a lower carbon solution than other housing options.
  • Climate disaster displaced nearly 2 million children in sub-Saharan Africa last year – Euronews: By the end of 2022, at least 1.85 million children in sub-Saharan Africa were displaced within their countries by climate shocks. The 2021 figure was one million. Children also experienced displacement more frequently in 2022 compared to the previous year.
  • ‘Major disruptor’: El Niño threatens the world’s rice supplies – The Guardian: Rice is a staple food for more than half the world’s population. Unpredictable weather across South and Southeast Asia puts rice supplies at risk. There is a growing need for farmers to adapt to the hotter temperatures brought on by the climate crisis.
  • The US keeps deporting people to a country that it says is too dangerous for travel – CNN: The United Nations says violence in Haiti increased almost 14% during the second quarter of this year compared to the previous quarter. On Aug. 30, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti urged American citizens to leave the country. The next day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported an undisclosed number of people to Haiti.
  • Philanthropy Needs Rights-Based Strategies and Tactics for Climate Action – The Center for Effective Philanthropy: Carla Fredericks, CEO of The Christensen Fund, provides three rights-based philanthropic practices to help funders empower Indigenous Peoples by including them in strategy development and decision-making.

Here is a sampling of photos from London’s Natural History Museum’s Photographer of the Year exhibit. They are all stunning. However, I like most the gorgonian sea fan with orange gobies blended in.