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.
A new report, Interconnected Disaster Risks
by United Nations University finds that the recent disaster
across the globe were interconnected even when they occurred in vastly
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
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
“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.
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
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
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:
- Amazon wildfires –
Wildfires fueled by global appetite
- Arctic heatwave –
Spiraling into a climate disaster
- Beirut explosion – When the global community abandons a ship
- Central Viet Nam floods – When being prepared is no longer enough
- Chinese Paddlefish extinction – The fish that survived the dinosaur extinction
but not humankind
- COVID-19 pandemic – How a pandemic is showing us the value of
- Cyclone Amphan – When a cyclone and a pandemic combine
- Desert locust outbreak –
How manageable risks spin out of control
- Great Barrier Reef bleaching – Losing more than a natural wonder
- Texas cold wave – A preventable catastrophe?