Flooding and extremely heavy rains have accounted for about 150,000 displaced people in Myanmar and the death of 27 people thus far. These extreme conditions were initially attributed to Cyclone Komen, which hit the region of southeast Asia, followed by intense rain.

These rains have lead to flooding, landslides and other disasters, which have completely destroyed specific regions in Myanmar. Heavy rains that have plagued the region in past weeks are unfortunately expected to continue over the next few weeks, furthering the disaster and mess that fills the region. There are images and videos of people using rafts and boats to maneuver through city streets, where cars were meant to be driven.

This is an issue of security for the government of Myanmar as well as private actors that are trying to assist displaced people in the region. Though the disaster occurred a few days ago, both government officials and members of other organizations such as the Red Cross predict that they will not able to reach any people caught in the disaster for days. Because the flooding and landslides are so intense and extreme, it is difficult for anyone on the outside to make their way into the disaster efficiently or safely. This also means it is near impossible for those stuck in the floods to make their way out to safety.

The extent of damage varies throughout the region. Not only have homes been washed away and roads completely submerged in water, but even bridges have been washed away and large buildings have collapsed. The United Nations has said there are about 140,000 people left from the flood and disaster currently living in camps in the region’s capital after managing to escape the horrible conditions.

These floods will have a detrimental long-term impact as well. Numerous crop fields, including about half a million rice paddy fields, have been flooded and destroyed. The economic toll of such destruction has yet to be determined.

There is hope that the extreme weather conditions will ease soon, thus making relief aid more readily available and able to enter the region to help those who are trapped.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: CNN, BBC
Photo: BBC

are natural disasters increasing frequency strength hazards
Are natural disasters increasing? Yes. Natural disasters are unpreventable occurrences that take place, ranging from mild to absolutely destructive. In recent years, it may seem as if these storms have increased from prior decades.


Natural Disasters: An Upward Trend


According to recent studies, it is true: the number of natural and geophysical disasters taking place each year is noticeably skyrocketing.

Geophysical disasters include earthquakes, volcanoes, dry rock-falls, landslides and avalanches. Climatic disasters are classified as floods, storms, tropical cyclones, local storms, heat/cold waves, droughts and wildfires.

In 1970, the average of natural disasters that were reported was 78; in 2004, this number jumped to 348. According to AccuWeather, since 1990, natural disasters have affected 217 million people every single year.

From 1980 to 2009 there was an 80 percent increase in the growth of climate-related disasters. Between 2001 and 2010, more than $1.2 trillion was lost to the increased rates of natural disasters. This was a dramatic rise, which between 1981 and 1990 had been roughly $528 billion.

With storms such as Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Irene, as well as the tsunamis and earthquakes that plagued Japan, a trend is apparent. But what is the cause of the horrific increase in disasters?

Scientists have concluded that the surges in climatic disasters is due to both man-made and natural elements. Contrary to popular belief, the sole cause of the increase is not attributed to global warming.

However, global warming has been increasing the temperatures of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. This contributes to the severity of the various types of storm rates rising – as the metaphysical makeup alters, so does the intensity.

Urbanization in regions that are prone to flooding has steadily increased the likelihood that more flash floods and coastal floods will take place. These floods result in mudslides and various injuries that add to the climbing statistics.

But how are humans helping to create typhoons, hurricanes, and earthquakes?

Human Contributions to Natural Disasters


A swell in population plays a large part in natural disasters. Some scientists theorize that natural disasters are not just necessarily increasing, but our methods of tracking them are improving.

With the ability to keep record of these disasters, scientists notice them more frequently than in the past. Limited means of keeping track of the natural disasters meant that the average could not be compared to previous accounts.

Through increasing population, more injuries or deaths occur, even with minor storms. Generally, tropical vacation areas are hot spots for climate tragedies. With hundreds to thousands of individuals clustered in one region, storms can wipe out more surface area in a shorter period of time.

Corresponding with the World Bank’s “Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis” reports show that over 160 countries hold more than one-fourth of their populations in regions of high mortality risks from one or more natural disasters.

Although natural disasters themselves have increased, the positive side is that deaths from these catastrophes have declined significantly. The advancement of technology has allowed for the predictions of climate-related disasters to better protect those in harm’s way.

– Samaria Garrett

Sources: Live Science, AccuWeather, Washington Post
Photo: Izi Smile

Tsunamis have occurred frequently throughout human history. Although they
are seen in every ocean on Earth, 80 percent of the worst tsunamis occur in the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”

As a tsunami wave approaches shallow water over land, the wave slows, causing the much quicker traveling water to pull up, extending the wave vertically. Reaching the shore, these waves can then be over 100 feet with multiple waves occurring in succession. Discussed below are the 10 worst tsunamis in history based on fatalities since the year 1700.


The 10 Worst Tsunamis in History

1. Indian Ocean Tsunami – The earthquake that caused the infamous Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 registered a 9.1 in magnitude and was said to have the energy of 23,000 atomic bombs. This extreme rupture caused massive tectonic plate movement, which caused other secondary faults to occur and expose an entirely new oceanic trench. These secondary faults elevated the height and speed of the generated waves.

According to some scientists, the amount of energy released was so great, the Earth’s rotation was slightly altered and wobbling of its axis occurred by 2.3 cm. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 killed more than 283,000 people. It produced waves 50 m tall and reached 14 countries. 

2. Messina, Italy Earthquake and Tsunami – On December 28, 1908, an earthquake, lasting for less than a minute, shook the cities of Messina and Reggio. The earthquake registered a 7.1 and caused severe damage to the cities. Only a few moments after the shaking, 12 meter tsunamis inundated nearby coastal areas, destroying almost all of the structures and killing 70,000 people. It was proposed that the tsunami was not caused by the earthquake itself, but rather by an undersea landslide which was caused by the earthquake. In total, 100,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives.

3. Portugal-Morocco Tsunami – The morning of All Saints Day in 1755, Lisbon, Portugal and its surrounding areas were ransacked by a nearly 9.0 earthquake which lasted for several minutes. The earthquake was felt in Africa, Greenland, all the way through Finland and in the Caribbean.

In the center of Lisbon, it opened fissures 15 feet wide. Survivors of the quake rushed to open spaces only to see the waters recede and reveal the sea floor. After 40 minutes, three large tsunami waves inundated the area, forcing people to flee for their lives. In other areas, fires engulfed buildings and raged for five days. The waves then spread out to many surrounding areas in the Atlantic Ocean, including Morocco, where an estimated 10,000 people lost their lives. The total life claim of the earthquake and tsunami was as much as 60,000 to 100,000 people.

4. Tsunami in South Chinese Sea, 1782 – The destructive force of this tsunami lands it on this list. It traveled 120 km into the Chinese mainland, killing over 40,000 people in the process. The tsunami itself was caused by a tectonic earthquake on the ocean floor and it destroyed many crops and farming areas. Other outside information concerning the damage done is unknown.

5. Krakatoa, Indonesia Tsunami – In a series of massive explosions accumulating over August 26-27 in 1883, the eruption of Krakatoa occurred. The sounds produced by this volcanic eruption are considered to be the loudest sounds ever heard in modern history, spreading 3,000 miles from the island chain. Three volcanic peaks erupted over that two day period, unleashing energy four times the strength of a Tsar Bomba (one of which is more than 13 times the force of the Hiroshima, Japan explosion). Devastating tsunamis then spread over the islands, killing an estimated almost 40,000 people.

6. Tokaido-Nankaido, Japan Tsunami – A earthquake of 8.4 magnitude which caused 25 meter waves to engulf the coastal regions of Kyushyu, Shikoku, Honshin and Osaka in 1707. The waves of the tsunami extended several kilometers inland and as many as a dozen occurred over a one hour period. A total of 30,000 people died as a result of the tsunami.

7. Sanriku, Japan Tsunami – The Sanriku earthquake of 1896 was one of the most destructive earthquakes to ever hit Japan. It registered an 8.5 in magnitude and caused two large tsunami waves which caused 27,000 deaths. The waves of the Sanriku event reached 25 meters and swept away everything they came into contact with. Different seismologists have declared that the resulting tsunami waves were much more devastating than they should have been, given the estimated seismic magnitude.

8. Southern Chile Earthquake and Tsunami – Possibly the largest earthquake in recorded history occurred on May 22, 1960 off the coast of Chile. The earthquake registered 9.5 on the Richter scale and sent 80 foot waves pounding into the shore of Chile only 15 minutes after the earthquake occurred. The waves stretched towards Hilo, Hawaii 15 hours after the earthquake and then towards Japan 22 hours later. The tsunami also affected the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the Aleutian Islands. The amount of damage ranged from US $400- 800 million and caused up to 6,000 deaths.

9. Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami – The 2011 earthquake of Tohoku was the most powerful earthquake to have ever hit Japan, and the fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history.

It registered a 9.0 in magnitude and was preceded by large fore-shocks and hundreds of aftershocks. The main quake lasted several minutes, producing seismic energy that could provide a busy city like Los Angeles power for an entire year.

The resulting tsunami produced record high waves of over 30 meters and inundated several hundred kilometers of land. 15,884 people lost their lives in the resulting tsunami and also in the nuclear disaster of Fukushima. The Tokoku tsunami was the most expensive natural disaster ever recorded, costing the US equivalent of $300 billion.

10. Ryukyu Islands Tsunami – The earthquake that occurred in Ryukyu Islands, Japan in 1771 registered a 7.4 in magnitude. The tsunami that resulted claimed a third of the population (over 12,000 lives), with reports that the waves it produced were 40 to 80 meters high (although there may have been confusion in the original measurements). There was also a claim that an entire islet disappeared as a result of the event, but this has never been verified.

– Ashley Riley

Sources: Potiori, Australian Geographic, Random History, CNN, Some Interesting Facts, World History Project, Berkeley
Photo: Meljay

paraguay floods
Rivers of trash flood the streets. Cats, dogs, chickens and hogs are stranded on rooftops. Over 15,000 people are displaced. The rains keep adding to the flooding in Paraguay and water levels keep rising, pushing people out of their homes and into improvised campsites in plazas and parks. The Red Cross estimates that over 200,000 people have been affected by the heavy flooding. The persistent deluge is destroying crops, hindering transportation and compromising homes.

The areas most affected are those that border the Paraguay and Paraná Rivers, specifically the departments of Ñeembucú, Alto Parana, Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay. Officials report that water levels have risen almost seven feet above normal. If the rivers continue to rise and overflow the surrounding areas, Paraguay will be face to face with an environmental disaster.

The waters have already overwhelmed the Cateura trash dump-slum, which is home to the famous Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, whose characteristic instruments are crafted from salvaged materials found in the garbage dump. The floodwaters are carrying waste throughout the already polluted streets of Paraguay.

Residents of the Chacarita, an impoverished barrio nestled between Asunción’s commercial center and the Paraguay River, have had to leave their homes and relocate to tent camps on higher ground. Many families had to leave their pets behind, representing an emotional and economic loss. Not only cats and dogs, but also chickens, ducks, hogs and horses are left to fend for themselves amid the rising waters.

Paraguayan officials have issued an environmental alert over floodwaters approaching a dumpsite for toxic waste. The Congress and Senate are working on allocating $1 million to contamination prevention, and the Paraguayan government has already provided $3 million in food aid to assist displaced families.

The Paraguay Red Cross is heavily involved with relief efforts and water sanitation, in coordination with the government of Paraguay. The U.N. has also assisted with disaster assessments.

Red Cross disaster management delegate Omar Robinson states, “Our main concerns are focused on what will happen tomorrow when the population sees the receding waters and realize there are no crops left and the State will have to at some point suspend distribution of food aid. This can cause a serious crisis for the population.”

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Red Cross, TVNZ, BBC, Latin American Herald Tribune
Photo: BBC

When you think about countries struggling with poverty issues, Japan may not come up at first. However, this country that has such standing in the global economic network is still saddled with the destruction that the devastating tsunami left. Attention from the global media may have shifted elsewhere, yet many in Japan have to deal with the aftereffects of the tsunami/nuclear disaster on a daily basis.

On March 11, 2011, the fifth-largest earthquake ever recorded in the world changed the lives of countless Japanese citizens. A result of the earthquake was the formation of a 130-foot tsunami that crashed the shores of Japan. The giant wave reached six miles inland, causing three nuclear meltdowns at the nation’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

All these circumstances resulted in $300 billion of damage and the death of 19,000 Japanese people. By all accounts, the natural disaster ranked as one of the worst in world history and would be a challenge for even a country as developed as Japan. The immediate outpouring of relief efforts for Japan was substantial and certainly put the country on a path back to normalcy.

Japan still has a long way to go on that path, though. There are still 270,000 left homeless from the tsunami and Japan is still working to rebuild the million buildings destroyed from the disaster. The country is in the midst of a five-year, $250 billion rebuilding project that will hopefully solve many of the needs that the Japanese face after the tsunami, but there are still new challenges popping up in the aftermath of the nuclear meltdowns.

One of the main worries going forward in Japan is the affect of the tsunami disaster on the nation’s fishing industry. For the island nation, fishing has always been an important factor of the national diet and has been influential economically as well. Extensive testing has been done on fish caught in Japanese waters, and after three years, most of the fish in the area may be caught and sold. However, there are still low levels of radioactivity in some of the fish being caught, and bottom fish like flounder still may not be sold.

Japan may have an enormous trade presence in Asia and the West, that trade presence can not quite offset what ended up being the most costly natural disaster in the history of the world. Issues in the Middle East and in other parts of Asia may have superseded Japan’s tsunami in the eyes of the West, yet in Japan these issues are an everyday struggle. The ongoing rebuilding efforts there exemplify the importance of foreign aid, even where media coverage may not be prevalent.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: PBS, Japan Talk, The Star
Photo: BBC

Natural disasters occur every year. Their existence is virtually a law of nature and unfortunately, the loss of life is often a consequence of these devastating events. But despite the certainty in the occurrence of natural disasters, there are things that can be done to mitigate and minimize the effects of these storms. These preparation efforts, when properly implemented, can help substantially reduce the effects of natural disasters.

The Philippines sees about 20 tropical storms each year, which would lead most to believe that the country should have a sophisticated storm preparation plans considering the constant threat to its residents. However, over 10,000 lives were lost in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. This high death toll indicates that there was likely much that could have been done to prevent the substantial loss of life caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Indeed, there were several things that should have been done differently in preparation for the storm.

1. Inaccurate Early Warning System

While Typhoon Haiyan may have been larger and stronger than most storms that typically hit the Philippines, the danger the storm presented could have been substantially decreased by the presence of a more accurate early warning system. According to University World News, the typhoon came in three hours earlier than warnings suggested and had a storm surge of six meters, which was unexpected. However, the slower development of typhoons, as compared to other rapidly forming natural disasters such as tsunamis, provides for much better preparation than what was provided during Typhoon Haiyan.

2. Underestimating the Storm’s Severity

While early estimates placed the storm surge at six meters, Typhoon Haiyan’s storm surge reached 55 feet, meaning the deadliest element of the typhoon was underestimated. So although hundreds of thousands of people evacuated, they apparently failed to evacuate far enough inland, likely relying on the underestimated storm surge.

Additionally, many residents are believed to have had an inadequate understanding of the meaning of storm surge, which likely also contributed to the failure to evacuate farther inland. According to the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines, people were preparing for the usual wind and rain of a typhoon, a misunderstanding that turned out to be catastrophic. Government officials should learn from these mistakes and develop a better method of disseminating information on the effects of typhoons in a simple and easy-to-understand format.

3. Misplaced Focus of Government Officials

In addition to the inaccurate early warning system and residents’ failure to fully grasp the severity of the storm, there are also indications that government officials may have been distracted by a senate hearing which involved the corruption of government officials, which took much needed focus away from storm preparedness efforts. The hearing apparently involved the misappropriation of more than $228 million from tax and government funds by government officials.

This focus on politics is believed by some pundits to have contributed to the neglect of disaster risk reduction, such as evacuating people who lived on low-lying, urbanized, coastal areas of islands, areas which were considered to be under threat by several initial reports.

Cavarrio Carter

Sources: University World News, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, International Business Times

On November 10, a deadly cyclone raged through the region of Puntland, located in Somalia’s northeastern coast. Though the cyclone has reportedly killed up to 300 people, the death toll has not yet been verified. Many of these victims were children and elderly, both of which are more vulnerable to hypothermia and exposure. Moreover, the United Nations says as many as 30,000 people are in need of food aid.

Whole villages have been washed away by the storm, thus forcing local aid workers to struggle to reach the stranded victims due to the damaged infrastructure. Furthermore, large portions of roads have been damaged, driving aid workers to deliver food aid on foot. Many people are also missing, especially in coastal towns where fisherman and their boats have been lost at sea.

Pastoralists have been hit the hardest since their livestock and poorly built homes and barns have been washed away. The region does not normally experience rain so the area’s infrastructure has not been built to withstand this sort of storm. In fact, some of the worst hit villages have lost 90 percent of their livestock to icy rain and flooding.

Moreover, areas infamous for pirates such as the port of Ely are some of the worst affected. This is worrisome as the 2004 Tsunami was considered one of the major triggers of the pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia where 736 people and 32 ships were held hostage.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently arrived in Puntland and transported 340 metric tons of food including cereal and vegetable seeds to the worst affected areas of Bossaso, Banderbayla, Dongoroyo and Eyl. In total 27, 000 people have been given a month’s worth of food rations. In addition Puntland’s government sent 32 trucks of emergency supplies throughout the needed areas.

Once emergency aid has been distributed and the region is no longer in a state of disaster the WFP will begin recovery work to rebuild the infrastructure of the area. The Food-for-Assets initiative is a recovery program run by the WFP that assists communities in rebuilding their infrastructure in a way that would better withstand a future natural disaster. Moreover, community workers are paid in food rations for assisting with the development.

Further south in Middle Shabelle, flooding has devastated the town of Jowhar and surrounding areas, pushing over 10,000 people to flee their homes. Their water supplies have, furthermore, been contaminated increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, while all standing crops and livestock in the area have been destroyed or lost. The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided 25,800 people with emergency essentials such as kitchen sets, clothes and sleeping mats.  They have also been able to stop flooding and repair riverbanks in five locations and distributed emergency food aid and water.

Lisa Toole

Sources: AllAfrica: Food Aid, AllAfrica: Twin Natural Disasters, Yahoo, World Food Programme, Aljazeera

Help Disaster Victims
The massive tornado in Oklahoma devastated thousands, and many people around the country wanted to do what they could to help disaster victims. But, unfortunately, the days after a major disaster or crisis are when the scam organizations arise, trying to lure innocent do-gooders into donating to their fake charity. Here are six ways to make sure you are doing the best for those you are trying to help.

1. Look up the charity on one of these sites (Wise Giving AllianceCharity NavigatorGuidestar or Charity Watch) and see what experts think about it. This way you can be certain that the organization you choose is reputable and honest about the donations they receive.

2. Find a charity that has done this a few times. Small, local charities may mean well, but they may not have the best resources to get your donation to the people who need it as efficiently as a larger organization that has faced major disasters before.

3. Designate where you want your donation to go. If you want your money to help rebuild homes, provide food, or buy clothing, specify when you send it to the organization.

4. Send money, not supplies. Although it may seem more helpful to send food, clothes, or toys to disaster victims, it just makes it harder for the charity to sort out and distribute the items. If you have items that you need to get rid of anyway, try selling them and donating the money instead.

5. Avoid donating to people who send mail or emails claiming to be disaster victims. Unless you know them personally, don’t trust them. It’s much safer to simply donate to a reputable charity.

6. If you choose to donate online, do it through the charity’s website, not social media. After Hurricane Katrina, the FBI reported more than 2,400 fake websites that tried to scam money from well-meaning donors. Your best bet is to donate directly through the organization’s website, which is much more trustworthy.

Katie Brockman
Source: Forbes