Information and stories on Natural Disasters

Joshimath's Crisis
Joshimath is a holy town and a gateway to pilgrimage sites in the Uttarakhand state of India. Located at a height of 6,150 feet, Joshimath’s crisis has led to the town being declared a landslide and subsidence hit zone after residents reported deep cracks on houses, buildings and roads. Indian Space Research Organization revealed satellite images of Joshimath which show that the town is craving in and has sunk 5.4 cm between December 27, 2022, and January 8, 2023.

While people are furious with the government for neglecting the Mishra Committee Report of 1976, which had warned of the sinking of Joshimath 50 years ago, the June 2013 floods, February 2021 glacier lake burst, hydro-power and road construction works could be the possible reasons.

As of January 13, 2022, authorities evacuated 600 people of 145 families to temporary safe residences like schools and hotels in response to Joshimath’s crisis. The town is home to 20,000 people.

Damage

Houses, hotels, including the popular Malari Inn and roads, have developed cracks them. The authorities declared more than 800 houses as damaged and unfit to live in. People have no other choice but to abandon their houses. Owners of the two hotels in the area, Malari Inn and Mount View, protested against the authorities demanding fair compensation.

As per the warnings of the Indian Meteorological Department, Joshimath witnessed rain on January 13, 2023, amid evacuations. Due to the changed weather, the authorities had to halt the demolition of the hotels.

Rescuing People From Joshimath’s Crisis

State Disaster Response Funds deployed eight units responsible for rescuing people and demolishing unsafe buildings and structures. Officials are conducting door-to-door surveys around the town to find out more damaged houses and buildings.

The Prime Minister’s Office held a high-level meeting and directed the officials of government bodies including the National Disaster Management Authority and the Geological Survey of India to study closely the Joshimath Crises and give their respective recommendations promptly.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami also met victims of the Joshimath crisis, who were protesting against the government for a fair amount of compensation. The chief minister also ordered his secretary R. Meenakshi Sundaram and the Commissioner of the Garhwal division to camp in Joshimath.

The state government also announced it will provide INR 1.5 lakhs per family as an interim relief compensation, out of which, Rs 50,000 is for relocation. The state also announced to aid each affected family with Rs 4,000. The government has also decided to waive the electricity and water bills of Joshimath’s crisis affected people for the next six months.

Meanwhile, the administration of the district is taking care of the needs of people staying temporarily in the safe shelter after abandoning their damaged and cracked houses. People are provided with proper food facilities including dry ration kits and packed foods. The administration is also making sure that the immediate needs of the affected people are fulfilled at the earliest.

– Aanchal Mishra
Photo: Flickr

Hurricane Ian
In the midst of the most powerful hurricane in nearly a century, Cuba’s Antonio Guiteras thermo-electric power plant lost power leaving 11 million without electricity. By Monday, October 3, 2022, reports stated that some of the island had regained power, yet large numbers of Cubans were still in the dark. Much of the island has experienced a subsequent water crisis as the plant is responsible for pumping fresh water across the island. Hurricane Ian produced winds upwards of 150 mph, leaving two dead and 20 unaccounted for. As authorities scramble to recoup in the wake of hurricane Ian, many have been wondering what is next, and when the state-run power grid will be up and running for all.

Dismay in the Eye of the Storm

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Cuba as a Category 3. It impacted the city of Pinar del Rio the hardest. Winds of up to 125 mph battered the western part of the island, damaging some of the most important tobacco farms in La Robaina. Agriculture is the main industry in the island nation and damage to this farm could result in further deprivation, as the circulation of goods is already slow. Cuba’s power outages have grown more frequent in the previous months, with a dated electrical power system, and blockage of income from tourism, the country’s stability is teetering.

The country depends on its export of medicine, and medical practitioners, as well as tourism and remittances, to remain somewhat secure. The COVID-19 pandemic left the country in a desperate economic state, with the closure of tourism, and President Trump’s new restrictions on Western Union transfers introduced in November 2020. Now Russia’s war in Ukraine has blocked tourists from dispersing their usual flow of hard currency in the country. Russians made up 40% of the tourists visiting Cuba in 2021, but the war halted flights back to Russia overnight, and along with air travel, a flow of touristic income has ceased to exist.

Upside and Solutions

Luckily, the Cuban model of disaster relief is much more advanced than the U.S. The U.N. has called the Cuban system “A Model in Hurricane Risk Management.” However, the factor that makes this model so advanced is education. Cubans learn how to prepare for a storm from a young age and receive warnings well in advance when a hurricane is approaching. This leads to fewer deaths overall as people flee the area of impact well before the storm arrives. Moreover, people are knowledgeable about how to prepare for hurricanes, and they take absolutely nothing for granted.

The U.N. reported that “All institutions are mobilized 48 hours before the hurricane hits the island, to implement the emergency plan, and measures such as massive evacuation are taken.” Unfortunately, much of this initiative has occurred out of necessity. Due to the authoritarian government, Cuba’s actual poverty data is hard to come by, but in 2020, the population was indirectly estimated to be at a poverty level of 41-50%. With the country in a dire state due to the pandemic, increased sanctions, and now trade issues with its global partner, individuals have often been on their own.

Global Solutions

Cuba is set to receive 1 million Euros in Aid from the EU. The storm damaged an estimated 100,000 homes, leaving many in need of housing. This act of solidarity by the EU will help the island nation recoup in the wake of the disaster. While government sanctions have still been largely hindering the country from receiving donations, Catholic Relief Sevices, in partnership with Caritas Cuba, has found a way around the blockade to get vital, non-perishable goods, water and supplies to people who need them.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Pixnio

Earthquake in AfghanistanU.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, announced that the U.S. would provide $55 million in aid after a fatal 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan on June 21, 2022. The disaster destroyed more than 10,000 houses and killed more than 1,000 people, making it the deadliest earthquake to hit Afghanistan in two decades. The earthquake poses a challenge for the Taliban, who have since asked the international community for aid.

Distribution of Funds

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on June 28, 2022, that it will allocate $55 million in aid for emergency relief resources such as shelter, food, water, clothing and hygiene products in Afghanistan. A portion of the aid will go toward sanitation measures to limit the spread of waterborne diseases. Funds will go directly to partner civil societies and nonprofit organizations operating in the region as the U.S. does not have official diplomatic or humanitarian ties with the ruling Taliban.

Additional Aid Efforts in Afghanistan

The devastating earthquake exacerbates the economic and humanitarian crises that have pummeled Afghanistan since the Taliban first rose to power in August of 2021. Afghani citizens already face food insecurity, with national hunger rising from 14 million in July 2021 to 23 million in March 2022.

With more than half of the population facing food insecurity, international assistance narrowly managed to avoid full-scale famine in the country in the winter of 2022. Poverty rates in the country are estimated to stand at almost 97% as of 2022 due to prolonged drought and instability caused by recent political upheaval and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 25, 2022, the United Nations initiated an emergency appeal for $110 million in aid to help the provinces most affected by the disaster. The U.N. will disseminate the funds in the next three months in order to help 360,000 Afghanistan citizens. This emergency appeal is integral to the U.N.’s Humanitarian Response for Afghanistan, which calls for a total of $4.4 billion in emergency aid.

Barriers to Aid

Unfortunately, the Taliban’s strict control over the country complicates all international humanitarian efforts. In late March 2022, the Taliban’s Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund announced to all foreign aid agencies in Afghanistan that all humanitarian projects must be done in close coordination with Kabul’s authorities. This announcement came a week after the governor of the province of Ghor, Ghulam Naser Khaze, attempted to exert total control over several local NGOs.

Governor Khaze insisted that the NGOs turn over their funds and only adopt projects chosen by the local government. Prime Minister Mullah’s directives and Governor Khaze’s actions in Ghor represent a policy framework known as the “Monitoring and Control Plan of NGOs.” Kabul’s Taliban government formulated this plan in the fall of 2021 to consolidate all NGO activities under the Taliban’s authority.

Sanctions and other measures aim to prevent the Taliban from fully implementing its NGO-control framework. As a result, international financial systems are especially diligent, making it difficult for humanitarian groups to access the funds efficiently. The Taliban continues to actively insert itself between nonprofit organizations and the aid they seek to provide via various formal and informal decrees, further frustrating the fund distribution process.

How to Help

As a result of international sanctions on the Taliban, online fundraising sites cannot be transferred to Afghanistan banks. The best way to help those affected by the earthquake is to donate directly to NGOs in the region. Below is a list of NGOs helping those struggling in Afghanistan.

  • The World Food Programme: The earthquake exacerbated the food crisis that has gripped Afghanistan for months. The World Food Programme mitigates the issue of food insecurity in Afghanistan by delivering food to those in need within just a few hours.
  • The Red Cross and Red Crescent: The Red Cross and Red Crescent have been working in Afghanistan since the U.S. evacuated the country in the summer of 2021. These programs are already organized to deliver food, other critical supplies and mental and health services to those affected by the earthquake.
  • Islamic Relief: Islamic Relief is a Muslim aid network founded in the U.K. in 1984. The organization operates various humanitarian relief programs in more than 45 countries. It already has a fund to help supply food aid, cash and emergency shelter to those facing the impacts of the earthquake.
  • International Medical Corps: The International Medical Corps stood as one of the first organizations to respond to the disaster. It immediately began coordinating with domestic emergency responders and providing trauma care to affected communities.

The international community is rushing to help those affected by the crisis. Still, everyone can help in their own small way. Be sure to remain an active and informed global citizen by vocalizing the importance of foreign aid funds to local government representatives. Through the efforts of nations, NGOs and ordinary citizens, Afghanistan can look to a brighter tomorrow.

– Mollie Lund
Photo: Flickr

andrew-bagwell-practice-edit-5-hip-hop-artists-fighting-poverty
Originating from South Bronx, New York City in the late 1970s, the genre of hip-hop is one of the most popular styles of music in the U.S. Artists frequently rap and sing about political issues such as racism, classism and injustice with beats and melodies that engage a wide variety of people. Hip-hop as an art form is more than just music and consists of four key elements: Deejaying, rapping, graffiti painting and B-boying (a form of self-presentation). With fame and fortune, many hip-hop artists have also added charity to their repertoire. Here are five big-named hip-hop artists fighting poverty.

1. Lil Wayne

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, killing about 220,000 people and leaving thousands fending for their lives. Lil Wayne joined stars like Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson and more to record “We Are the World 25 For Haiti,” a re-record of Michael Jackson’s iconic song. Additionally, Lil Wayne has funded programs centered around mentoring youth and has helped rebuild a park in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.

2. Eminem

In 2011, superstar Eminem released a video asking attendees of the V Festival to donate to Elton John’s AIDS Foundation, and he further tweeted his support of the nonprofit during his tour in 2014. Eminem also started the Marshall Mathers Foundation in 2002, a nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk youth and the disadvantaged in Detroit.

3. Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar, currently one of the most famous hip-hop artists, has a long line of philanthropic work. In the U.S., Lamar has donated thousands of dollars to the programs for the Compton Unified School District, the very place he grew up. Additionally, in 2014, he went on a five-stop world tour, the proceeds of which went to Habitat for Humanity. In 2016, Lamar headlined the Global Citizen Festival, which helped fight gender inequality and extreme poverty, and provided increased access to education. The artist has also donated thousands to Red Cross.

4. The Game

Hip-hop artist The Game started The Robin Hood Project, an organization that aims to give back to people in need through donations. He came up with the idea after meeting a Nigerian immigrant in Australia who lived with 20 people in a one-bedroom apartment. He has also donated $1 million to Flint, Michigan in 2016 to help their water crisis.

5. Ludacris

In 2013, rapper and hip-hop artist Ludacris donated $50,000 to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The natural disaster killed more than 5,000 people and injured many more, and the musician felt compelled to share his wealth with those in need. He has also funded organizations that combat cancer, at-risk youth, AIDS and human trafficking.

Hip-hop artists have a history of rapping about current events, and their efforts of advocacy do not just stop at writing and performing songs. These artists have donated thousands of dollars to different organizations, some of them even going as far as starting their nonprofits, showing that anyone with the power to help can make the world a better place.

Yashavi Upasani
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Flood RisksAcross the globe there are hundreds of millions of people at risk of severe floods and the situation has only grown worse since the beginning of 2022. Many countries are reducing flood risks or they face billions of dollars of damages and potentially thousands of lives lost or displaced.

Who is at Risk

Floods are one of the most common and devastating natural disasters, and they are estimated to affect as many as 1.81 billion people every year. Of those affected by floods every year, 170 million people live in extreme poverty and the floods only make the situation worse. Natural disasters are estimated to cause more than $300 billion dollars of damage every year, with this number increasing to half a $1 trillion dollars when considering consumption loss, and floods are one of the leading causes. Low and middle-income countries account for 89% of those affected by floods, with most living in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

The Recent Damage

Since the start of 2022, there have been many devastating floods which have affected the lives of millions. At the beginning of 2022, tropical storm Ana caused floods in developing countries across eastern Africa. The tropical storm hit Mozambique the worst and left 45,000 people in need of humanitarian aid, with 23,000 of them being women and children according to UNICEF.

The issue persists well into 2022 as in recent weeks floods in developing countries like India and Bangladesh have killed 200 people and displaced nearly 7 million people. It is clear that floods are a global issue, as they impact nearly a quarter of the global population, cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damages and displace or even kill the most vulnerable people.

Citizen-Based Investment Programs

The first major way that countries can reduce their risk of floods is by implementing a Citizen-Based Investment Program (CBI). Small Caribbean Island countries have been using this idea for decades. St. Kitts and Nevis created a CBI program in 1984 that allows rich investors from countries like the United States to invest in the nation’s Sustainable Growth Fund in exchange for citizenship with the nation. This fund is used by the nation to support growth and development within the infrastructure of the island to better protect it from natural disasters and grow its economy back faster after a disaster.

This Citizen-Based Investment Program is a successful industry that has contributed as much as 30% of the GDP in St. Kitts and Nevis in 2020. This specific portion of the GDP has been used over the last few years to create hospitals, hurricane-resistant homes and has even brought money to the education sector. This idea could be implemented in developing countries that are at high risk of floods as the fund contributes to a boosted natural disaster defense for the country and increases its tourism infrastructure just as it was implemented in the Caribbean nations.

Increased Preparedness

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has created a database that accumulates satellite signals and weather patterns from a multitude of sources that is designed for public use. Local water authorities in these developing countries could use the Flood and Drought Portal database to help make highly accurate predictions about weather patterns that are likely to cause floods.

This program has already been used in countries similar to Senegal with the help of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to better increase Senegal’s data acquisition and helped advise food policy in the developing country. This data acquisition allowed officials in Senegal to get more accurate measurements for deforestation, floods and droughts which have already helped save people from disaster and famine.

Environmental Adaptation

The UNEP has also contributed to reducing floods in developing countries through the implementation of environmental factors that counter the increasing flood risks. The UNEP has created wetlands and increased vegetation in some developing countries which can help reduce the damage caused by floods as these wetlands soak up the flood water and then the water is slowly dissipated.

This idea has been implemented in Comoros, where the UNEP reconstructed 3,500 hectares of watershed habitat which aided the citizens of Comoros in retaining water from floods to be used later by farmers for their crops. The UNEP has been using this system to locate high flood risk regions that are in close proximity to potential wetlands and then using these wetlands to mitigate flood damage.

A Flood Free World

Although the idea of a world free from flood damage seems far-fetched, the three programs have proven to be highly successful in reducing flood risks. With the devastating floods that have already occurred in 2022, the three implementation programs could make a difference in reducing floods in developing countries.

Declan Harkness
Photo: Flickr

Floods in Suriname
Unprecedented levels of flooding struck dozens of villages in the South American country of Suriname, an already impoverished country, in April 2022. As of June 24, the water had yet to recede. The floods affected more than 3,000 households, as well as businesses and schools. Countries such as China and the Netherlands have provided some financial support, but the country still needs more help. The upcoming dry season, when the waters should recede, remains the biggest cause of hope to ease the impacts of the floods in Suriname.

Impacts of the Flooding

Increased rainfall caused the floods in Suriname over the course of 2022, leading to rivers overflowing their banks. This affected 3,000 homes in seven districts, France24 reported. Floods due to rising water levels damaged numerous farms. In a country with 26% of people living on less than $5.50 a day as of 2022, most people who have suffered damage to their homes cannot afford repairs.

Farmers in Suriname have suffered damages as well. Many lost complete fields or yields of crops, leaving them with little to no income for the foreseeable future. This has led such farmers to depend on government aid to financially support themselves. As a result of the increased need for aid from both farmers and non-farmers, the government of Suriname has looked to other countries for additional aid.

Incoming Foreign Aid

Many countries have already answered the call for help, including China, which donated $50,000 to Suriname on June 21. In addition, the Netherlands also pledged €200,000 through UNICEF, France24 reported. Even Suriname’s fellow South American country Venezuela, no stranger to economic problems of their own, provided 40,000 tons of food and medicine in an effort to help. The distribution began in the last week of June. Guyana is another country primed to send aid to Suriname in the form of essential food items.

On May 25, 2022, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) agreed to provide access to health care in some regions affected by floods in Suriname. This access to health care will be essential in the recovery process, as many people in Suriname cannot currently afford any kind of medical attention.

Looking Ahead

As Suriname awaits more aid from additional countries and international organizations, a large source of optimism is the upcoming dry season. The country hopes it could lead to the end of the large amounts of rainfall, causing the rivers to return to normal levels.

There is not much one can do to stop the flooding. However, there are many ways to help the people affected. The countries that have pledged aid are a great start and more countries look ready to do the same. Overall, it seems that the people of Suriname may soon see an end to this tragedy.

– Thomas Schneider
Photo: Pixabay

Oaxaca’s Indigenous Populations
In Mexico on May 30, 2022, Hurricane Agatha, with a Category 2 rating and winds recorded at 105 mph, made landfall in the southern state of Oaxaca. It is the most intense hurricane to make landfall on Mexico’s pacific coast during the month of May since the National Hurricane Center began keeping records in 1949. Oaxaca’s extreme poverty rates further exacerbated the hurricane’s devastation. The state is consistently among the three poorest states in Mexico with a poverty rate of approximately 66.4% as of 2018. All three of the poorest states are located in the southern part of the country, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located.

Hurricane Agatha’s Initial Damage

The rising level of rivers and flooding swept away roadways and homes in the area. As of the morning of June 1, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, stated that preliminary deaths were estimated to be 11 while 33 were presumed missing. Murat has since announced on June 2 that those numbers have decreased as findings determined that nine died while another four were missing. He explained the decline was due to relief efforts re-gaining contact with the more remote areas. Murat stated the majority of the deaths were due to landslides or sudden flooding and took place primarily in the very remote towns of the mountains. Towns like these are often home to Mexico’s indigenous populations, which are amongst the poorest people in the area leaving them even more vulnerable. The governor also stated that landslides destroyed or covered certain roadways and bridges, making entry into the area more difficult. This is especially true for remote towns with already poor infrastructure.

Poverty in Oaxaca

In Mexico, those wishing to identify the most impoverished use a system of measuring poverty called multidimensional poverty. This is a method of taking into account not only income but also social deprivations such as lack of schooling and unsafe housing when assessing poverty. However, in terms of income alone, many consider Mexicans poor when they make less than 3,898 pesos ($187) per month in urban areas and 2,762 pesos ($133) in rural areas.

Southern Mexico has some of the poorest regions in the country with several municipalities having poverty rates of over 98%. As previously mentioned, the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located in its southern states, with Oaxaca having the highest indigenous population of any state in Mexico. As of 2010, 33.8 % of Oaxaca’s population spoke at least one indigenous language.

The poorest municipality in all of Mexico, San Simón Zahuatlán is also located in the state of Oaxaca with a staggering poverty rate of 99.6%, according to Mexico News Daily. Approximately 99.3% of this municipality’s population is indigenous as of 2020. A report in 2019 conducted by the United Nations went as far as to deem human development within this municipality as comparable to the war-torn country of Yemen, according to Mexico News Daily. This brings attention to the fact that indigenous communities are amongst the poorest groups in Mexico, and in the case of hurricane Agatha by far the most significantly impacted.

Looking Ahead

The Mexican government will now have a large project on its hands to help those displaced by the violent weather. The local government was proactive in opening 200 storm shelters to help house up to 26,800 people potentially displaced. Hotels also opened their doors to help house tourists not prepared for the hurricane. It could prove beneficial for the government to direct the majority of future relief efforts towards bettering the area’s infrastructure, especially amongst Mexico’s indigenous populations who arguably need it most but for now, southern Mexico is focussing on its recovery.

– Devin Welsh
Photo: Flickr

India's Natural Disasters
With the number of natural disasters increasing every year, India fears that the situation will escalate to a point of no return. By the year 2030, no less than eight years from now, experts predict that the world will experience 560 natural disasters annually, which equates to about three natural disasters every two days. According to the National Herald, 32% of India’s population lives below the national poverty line. India’s natural disasters can have extreme economic repercussions, a burden that many impoverished Indians simply cannot shoulder.

Variations of Natural Disasters

India’s natural disasters vary and are not limited to just one type of disaster. Experts predict that droughts will increase more than 30% from the year 2001 leading to 2030 but may differ year on year. An increase in “extreme temperature events” is also a fear Indians face as experts also expect the frequency of these events to triple by the year 2030.

These risks lead to developmental, financial and policy decisions that aggravate the living conditions of already vulnerable people and further their existing dangers. This is without accounting for COVID-19, which also heightens unemployment and inequality. Furthermore, the intensity and impacts of natural disasters have been more extreme “in the last five years than in the previous five.”

Urbanization of Coastal Cities

Rapid urbanization also plays a factor as lots of large cities are concentrated in coastal areas, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of rising sea levels. In fact, on a world scale, “the global mean sea level is rising at a rate of around 3.7 millimeters per year, according to estimates made between 2006 and 2018.” Many of India’s coastal cities are at risk of becoming entirely submerged underwater by 2100. The Indian cities of Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Kochi and Mumbai “could be nearly three feet underwater” by 2100.

Disproportionate Impacts on the Impoverished

The impacts of natural disasters disproportionately affect impoverished people as people in poverty are more inclined to reside in substandard housing in precarious locations in the country. The impacts of natural disasters exacerbate poverty further as these individuals, in an attempt to survive, resort to reducing expenditure with regard to essentials such as “food, health and education,” which harms their well-being in the long term.

These families also desperately resort to pushing their children into child labor in order to add to the household income. These events also lead to a surge in prices of essentials, making these items unaffordable for the impoverished. For example, EUobserver writes that “floods can destroy harvests, affecting the regional supply of grain, maize or other crops, therefore driving up food prices.”

Over the past 30 years, the economic losses stemming from natural disasters rose more than twofold since the 1990s when the losses averaged $70 billion annually. By 2020, the economic losses averaged about $170 billion annually, although insurance covers 40% of these losses. However, insurance is not an option for some risks such as rising sea levels.

UNICEF Takes Preventative Measures

Although India’s natural disasters cause the country’s future to appear bleak, there is a brighter outlook for one of the “world’s most disaster-prone countries.” UNICEF is establishing disaster-risk reduction as a priority in its 2018-2022 Country Programme for India. This will involve incorporating “risk reduction strategies into the education, health, nutrition and water and sanitation sectors” of the nation to establish resiliency and enhance recovery.

UNICEF’s risk analysis will prioritize the well-being of the nation’s children, taking into account ” the impact of natural and man-made hazards and conflict on children’s well-being and their communities.” UNICEF will also prioritize the “design of comprehensive school safety [programs]” to mitigate impacts on children should disaster strike.

India’s natural disasters bring consequences that highlight the importance of prioritizing solutions for disaster risk reduction. The above actions play a significant role in safeguarding the well-being of India’s citizens.

– Christina Papas
Photo: Flickr

Tonga’s Natural Disasters
In January 2022, Tonga underwent a series of natural disasters that left the country in a state of reparation due to the damage to homes, infrastructure and technological services. As the repairs from Tonga’s natural disasters are widespread and costly, in January 2022, the United States pledged more than $2.5 million in relief aid. The assistance from the U.S. to support reparation efforts will provide the Polynesian nation’s construction industry with significant opportunities for work, helping the country to recover quickly.

Damages From Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are common in Tonga, but January 2022 recorded a tsunami, a volcanic eruption and an earthquake. The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcanic eruption on January 15, 2022, was powerful enough to potentially claim the title of the strongest eruption on the island in at least the last 30 years, if not more. The eruption then triggered a tsunami on the same day, which caused flooding, fatalities, building destruction and a loss of electrical power for extended periods. The tsunami then led to an earthquake, the final natural disaster occurring on January 27, 2022.

The damages do not end with destroyed power and cable lines. However, the extensive dangers of repairing the cable services remain. The storm severed the main cable line connecting Tonga to the rest of the world. The cable line rests on coral reefs, which can be dangerous to navigate. While these details paint a grim picture of the country, Tonga’s construction industry and workforce, with the help of local and international aid volunteers, are ready to help rebuild the island nation.

Tonga Construction Industry and Workforce

In the wake of Tonga’s natural disasters, the construction industry plays a vital part in reparation efforts. Tonga’s construction industry plays a role in implementing some of the goals of the Tonga Strategic Development Framework (2015 -2025). The Framework is a plan to revitalize Tonga’s economy through construction and reconstruction efforts. Tonga aims to achieve this by lowering the costs of construction materials and labor and by making building structures more resilient to extreme climate conditions. The Tongan government especially pushed for these efforts after the destruction of Cyclone Gita in 2018, one of Tonga’s worst cyclones.

In 2020, Tonga’s construction industry contributed more than 14% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). The last clarified national poverty rate was about 22% in 2015. New construction projects since 2018 have created new positions specifically for assisting with relief after Tonga’s natural disasters. Tonga’s natural disasters create a need for construction assistance across all areas of Tonga, including all outlying islands and the main island. The added positions offer jobs to Tongans of all age ranges and levels of educational attainment. The new jobs often come with training, supervision and in-field experience. Each new job is invaluable considering Tonga’s first month of storms in 2022. Foreign aid can also potentially increase the salaries of construction workers during these most recent reparation efforts, helping them to rise out of poverty.

Foreign Aid and the Path to Recovery

Tonga’s natural disasters often cause millions of dollars of damage. As an impoverished country, Tonga’s government lacks the funds necessary to finance reconstruction materials and pay construction workers. For this reason, Tonga relies heavily on international aid. First, the U.S. government pledged $100,000 in financial assistance on January 20, 2022, and less than a week later, on January 26, 2022, the U.S. government allocated $2.5 million to support Tonga’s recovery.

The path to recovery is not easy for Tonga, but the aid does not stop with the United States’ support. British and Australian ships entered Tongan waters in January 2022 to provide necessities such as medical supplies, water and food.

To earn international coverage and garner more support for Tonga, Tongan Olympian athletes, such as Pita Taufatofua, are using their influence to encourage people to donate to support relief efforts and use social media to bring global attention to the humanitarian situation in Tonga.

By beginning construction again, the Tongan economy will be on its way to recovery. Reconstruction and reparation will take time, but with the funds promised by foreign aid and allies, the nation is one step closer to recovery. Though Tonga’s natural disasters are unpredictable, international aid provides hope for relief each time.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Resilience Policies
Not only do natural disasters cost the global economy $520 billion annually but extreme weather also thrusts 26 million global citizens into poverty annually. People enduring poverty experience the adverse effects of floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters more severely because they often live in “fragile housing in disaster-prone areas” and take up employment in industries, such as “farming and agriculture,” that are more “susceptible to extreme weather events.” In response to extreme weather and the impact it has on vulnerable populations, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) released a report that puts forth the idea of natural disaster resilience policies to protect the impoverished from natural disasters and help them to cope with the consequences. The suggestions in this report to the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference aim to implement early warning systems and improve access to personal banking, social protection systems and other critical investments.

What are Natural Disaster Resilience Policies?

The purpose of a resilience policy is to help those living in developing countries develop resilience, which refers to “the ability of individuals, communities and states and their institutions to absorb and recover from shocks [while] positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term changes and uncertainty.”

With calls for a resilience policy package, specific countries can tackle the financial strain that comes after a natural disaster. For instance, in September 2020, Haiti received a payout of about $7 million “on its Excess Rainfall (XSR) parametric insurance policy following the passage of Tropical Cyclone Laura.” By having their own resilience policies, developing countries can help their most impoverished citizens in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The nature of insurance policies introduced under the resilience policy benefits those facing the impacts of natural disasters by paying out automatically when conditions “meet or exceed pre-agreed thresholds” regarding wind speed, rainfall or economic losses through insurance policies called parametric policies.

The Economic Benefits of Resilience Policies

The World Bank and GFDRR’s suggestions for resilience policies propose improving disaster risk management (DRM) in 117 countries. For instance, Angola, a country in Central Africa, could potentially see “$160 million a year in gains” if the country were to implement “scalable safety nets” to support the nation’s most impoverished citizens in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Countries with resilience policies are already noting benefits. Due to “an innovative insurance program, Haiti, Barbados, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines received a payout of $29 million in support of recovery efforts after suffering the effects of Hurricane Matthew.”

Scalable safety nets must consist of flexible systems and procedures, including registration and payment mechanisms that will “enable the safety net [to] increase (and decrease) assistance when appropriate” and provide “good quality risk information to understand when a shock has occurred” to allow contingency planning to provide the disbursement of the fund after a disaster.

How Governments Can Assist

Governments can help end global poverty and support those in developing countries after a natural disaster through investments in infrastructure and developing appropriate land-use policies and building regulations. The U.S. Agency for International Development intends to utilize disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs to achieve resilience in countries experiencing extreme weather conditions. Striving for longer-term prevention, the DRR programs will focus on attaining objectives such as “prioritizing and strengthening early warning, preparedness, mitigation and prevention” and “transitions to foster resilience and [support] diversified livelihood strategies” to help impoverished people withstand extreme weather and the impact of natural disasters.

Natural disaster resilience policies can provide better housing and create better employment opportunities for those living in poverty by diversifying the workforce. For instance, in Uganda, “72% of [Uganda’s] labor force works in agriculture,” which is an area that is “highly climate-sensitive.” This puts one of Uganda’s main exports, coffee, at risk in the face of natural disasters or extreme weather events that could potentially prevent the country from producing and harvesting its export. Droughts in 2020 led to the loss of about 50% “of all coffee yields” in Uganda.

By reducing the impact of natural disasters on communities worldwide through resilience policies, poverty can decrease as countries will be better able to adapt to extreme weather changes “and boost the resilience and prosperity of their most vulnerable citizens.” With the ability “to cope, rebuild and rebound,” millions of people can remain out of poverty.

– Grace Watson
Photo: Flickr