UN Report Finds That Recent Disasters Were Interconnected

Top story
The COVID-19 pandemic, which was facilitated or amplified by our hyper-connected society, demonstrated in the clearest form possible that there are no borders or boundaries that can contain disasters. While this interconnectivity has been globally recognized for COVID-19, it equally applies to many other large-scale disasters which took place in 2020/2021.
08 Sep 2021 18:08
Heavy rains swept across western Germany in July 2021. Dozens died amid devastating floods. Closer home the 2020 locusts and the COVID 19 disasters are examples of inverconnected disasters

 A new report, Interconnected Disaster Risks 2020/2021, by United Nations University finds that the recent disaster across the globe were interconnected even when they occurred in vastly different locations. 

The report released on Wednesday by UN’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) analyses 10 different disasters from 2020/2021. It says all the analyzed disasters do have much in common, and they  are interconnected with each other.

As shown by the key findings of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 6th Assessment report, extreme events, such as droughts, fires and floods, are increasingly compounding each other, likely as a consequence of human influence.  

Viewed through a lens of interconnectivity, this new report shows in detail how not only climate disasters, but human-made disasters in general build on the impacts of the past and pave the way for future disasters.

The frequency of severe weather events, epidemics and human-made disasters is increasing globally, and it is becoming ever more challenging to keep pace with the corresponding changes and impacts.   

In 2020/2021, the world witnessed a number of record-breaking disasters: the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, a cold wave crippled the state of Texas, wildfires destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and Viet Nam experienced 9 heavy storms in the span of only 7 weeks.  

By scientists  analysing past events through the lens of interconnectivity, both the disasters that are happening right now and those that will happen in the future can be better understood.
  UN’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) Senior Scientist Dr. Zita Sebesvari, a lead author of the report said 

“When people see disasters in the news, they often seem far away. But even disasters that occur thousands of kilometres apart are often related to one another and can have consequences for people living in distant places.”

An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced the second-highest air temperatures and second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.  

According to authors of the report, the increasing temperature in the Arctic destabilizes the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America.

  “Thus, changes in Arctic temperature influence locations far away from the Arctic and likely also contributed to the below-freezing temperatures in Texas, a state that is used to year-round warm weather. Around 4 million people were without electricity as the power grid froze up, and 210 people died” reads part of the report.

“ Oftentimes, disasters stem from the same root causes, which means that they are interconnected by the same underlying factors that create the conditions for these seemingly unrelated disasters to occur.” It added    

The new report Interconnected Disaster Risks identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.  

Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were one of the reasons why Texas experienced the freezing temperatures, but they also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Amphan, for example – an entirely different disaster in an entirely different part of the world. Insufficient disaster risk management was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damages during the cold wave, and the same also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.

But disasters are not only connected to each other; they are also connected to us as individuals. The record rate of deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon is in part due to the high global demand for meat: farmland is needed to grow soy, which is used as animal fodder for poultry. This means that some of the root causes of disasters are in fact influenced by the actions of people far away from where the event itself occurs.

“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behavior. Our actions have consequences, for all of us,” said fellow lead author Dr. Jack O’Connor.   “But the good news is that if the problems are connected, so are the solutions.”  

The report showcases solutions at both the societal and individual level and explains how one action, such as cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, can affect many different types of disasters: it can prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

The ten disasters covered in the report are:
  1. Amazon wildfiresWildfires fueled by global appetite
  2. Arctic heatwaveSpiraling into a climate disaster
  3. Beirut explosionWhen the global community abandons a ship
  4. Central Viet Nam floodsWhen being prepared is no longer enough
  5. Chinese Paddlefish extinction The fish that survived the dinosaur extinction

    but not humankind
  6. COVID-19 pandemicHow a pandemic is showing us the value of biodiversity
  7. Cyclone Amphan When a cyclone and a pandemic combine
  8. Desert locust outbreakHow manageable risks spin out of control
  9. Great Barrier Reef bleachingLosing more than a natural wonder
  10. Texas cold waveA preventable catastrophe?