Disastrous 2019; Peril of Climate Change

Climate Change in Pakistan

We welcomed New Year 2020 with cheers, parties, fireworks and being around our loved ones, but looking back at the past year is very desolate. The year 2019 could be marked as one of the gloomiest years in human history in terms of worst climate disasters. Rapid change in climate caused severe, irreversible damages to our permanent Home-The Earth. Climate caused disasters such as wildfires, heatwaves, storms, draughts, loss of Arctic ice, intense rain falls, and floods wrecked the mankind and our planet too. Some of the deadliest are listed below.

Wildfires

Australia is still in headlines due to the worst Wildfires burning right now, throughout the whole country almost. Started somewhere in August, the fires became noticeable in September. New South Wales and Victoria are the most affected states, though Melbourne and Sydney are partially affected. The flames reportedly reaching up to a height of 230 meters, have damaged thousands of buildings. Till date, around 24 people are died, and more than 2,000 homes are completely destroyed by the wildfires. An estimated of seven million hectares of land has burned, (more than four million hectares in New South Wales alone). Millions of people have been evacuated to safe areas. About 1.25 billion of birds, mammals and reptiles are burnt to death. Nearly 800 koalas (one third of koala population in NSW) is dead. Almost 15,000 firefighters are battling blazes, working tirelessly since past several months. Many other countries, including USA have sent firefighting assistance to Australia. Thick smoke spread across hundreds of miles, affecting neighboring countries. Snow near Franz Josef Glacier, in the west of Tai Potini National Park, New Zealand has reportedly turned into caramelized color. The estimated cost of total damage could be evaluated once the fires are put off, probably after a decent amount of rain, or when dry, hot summer is over which is still two more months away.

Amazon Rainforest: known as the lungs of the earth; responsible to produce 6% of the world’s oxygen; suffered one of the worst fires of its history. However, news of fires in Amazon during hot, dry season is a repetitive phenomenon. One of the main reasons of fires in the area is ‘slash and burn’; a conventional method to clear the land for agriculture purpose by the local farmers. The 2019 wildfires turned troublesome when NASA’s AIRS published a map showing rapid increase in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air above and around Amazon resulting from the wildfires. According to media reports, some 40,000 fires were recorded. A total of 906,000 hectares (2,240,000 acres) were burned completely. The number and size of active fires was actually three times higher than of 2018, and highest since 2010. The intense smoke in the air made population in Population in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru suffer of respiratory and lungs related diseases. Brazilian president Jai Balsonaro and Bolivian president Evo Morals were accused for the occurrence as their pro-business policies receive heavy criticism and considered to be ‘anti-environment’ policies.

Bushfires in California occur almost every year in summer season, amid hot, dry weather (spring-late summer). August and September of the year 2019 passed quite tranquilly and no major fire was reported. It was late October when Kincade Fire became noticeably strong. Many other major fires including the Maria Fire, the Hillside Fire, Jurupa Valley Fire, Easy Fire, Tick Fire, Getty Fire, Old Water Fire, and Saddle Ridge Fire joined to aid the destruction. Media reports claimed that a total of 7,860 fires burned more than 105,147 hectares (259,823 acres) of forest, costing USD 163 million (spent on suppression of fire). Some 5 casualties were recorded and another 22 were injured. Thousands of people were told to abandon the area. California Governor Gewin Newson publicly criticized power companies (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric) and blamed them for possibly sparking the fires, and later cutting the power supply off for hundreds of thousands of people for several days.

Heatwaves

Summer 2019 is listed as one of the hottest summers in Europe, affecting southwestern to Central Europe. The month of June was evidenced as one of the hottest Junes ever recorded in Europe. High pressures and hot winds from the Sahara Desert caused a blistering heatwave in the region. France was the most affected country, facing 113 degree Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius); first time ever in French history. The heatwave killed total 15 people in Europe.

The early June brought an intense heatwave in Northern India. Some regions experienced scorching temperatures, reaching up to 45 degrees Celsius, for a consecutive three long weeks. Bihar was the most affected state where 186 people died. Hundreds were admitted to hospital due to heatstroke. The authorities had to impose Curfew-like restrictions, forbidding citizens to remain outside during extreme heat hours (11am-4pm). Less than required rainfall during pre-monsoon, and a delayed monsoon season made the heat more intolerable.

Another immense heatwave grappled Japan for weeks. In July, the sizzling temperature was recorded 105 degree Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). According to Japanese media reports, more than 100 people were deceased, another 34,347 were admitted to hospitals (mostly aged 65 or more) due to heat related diseases. Tokyo, Kumagaya, Osaka and Fukushima were the most affected cities. The heatwave was classified as a ‘natural disaster’ in Japan.

Typhoons, Cyclones and Hurricanes

A tropical depression near the east coast of Mozambique created a cyclone, which turned into one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to hit Africa and southern hemisphere. Originated on March 4, cyclone Idai hit Mozambique on the same day. For next few days, the cyclone remained low in the Mozambique channel. On March 14, the cyclone re-originated and got burliest. The cyclone instigated strong winds, reaching up to a speed of 125 mph (205 km/h) triggered heavy flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Madagascar. More than 1300 people were dead, hundreds were reported missing, another 3 million people were directly affected by the cyclone. The destruction cost a worth of USD 2.2 billion.

Lekima was another strong typhoon to hit China and Taiwan, affecting Japan and Philippine too. Formed by a tropical depression off the east coast of Philippine somewhere around July 30, the typhoon became strongest and hit China on August 8. Lekima was the fourth typhoon of the season but became strongest to hit China in last 5 years. With a wind speed of up to 120 mph(193km/h), Lekima was a Catagory-4 typhoon. It brought rainfall that further caused severe floods and landslide in more than 7 provinces including Zhejiang, Shanghai and Jiangsu. At least 72 people were dead, hundreds went missing and many more hundreds were left homeless, however millions had to evacuate the area. The typhoon wrecked around 34,000 houses, damaged 173,000 hectares of crops, and brought major damage to several roads and bridges. The situation prompted Chinese government to issue a ‘red typhoon alert’, the highest that Beijing uses for intense natural disasters. The direct economic loss was estimated around USD 2.1 billion.

Hurricane Dorian

Dorian ranked as one of the most devastating hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, in terms of 1-minite sustained winds. Formed between August 24-26, Dorian struck the Abaco Island on September 1. Moving forward with the same intensity, the typhoon struck the Grand Bahamas on September 2. Ranked as one of the deadliest typhoons in Bahamian history, Dorian caused catastrophic destruction. Majority of the structure was flattened or swept to the sea. More than 80 people were reported as dead, while another 70,000 were left homeless. Dorian, later turned into a category-II hurricane, further affected Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, eastern United States (Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia), eastern Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island), southern Greenland, and Iceland. Estimated total cost of damage was around 4.68 billion (USD 3.4 billion in Bahamas alone).

An extraordinary destructive typhoon named ‘Hagibis’ struck southwestern Japan on Sep 13. The strongest typhoon in decades to hit mainland in Japan; Hagibis proved to be one of the largest typhoons with a peak diameter of 925 nautical miles. High-speed winds whipped Tokyo and Tokyo Bay, by ushering more than 3 feet of rain in just 24 hours. More than 20 rivers burst flooding, further causing landfall that killed at least 86; more than 8 million people were put on evacuation order and millions more were further strongly advised to evacuate. Several parts of the country were positioned under ‘the most severe weather’ warning when Higibis made landfall. Amidst severe weather conditions, the parade celebrating the ascension of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito was postponed until November. The estimated cost of destruction was around USD15 billion, ranking the typhoon as ‘Costliest Pacific typhoon in recorded history’.

Floods

Iran was tattered by the floods brought by intense rainfall in the mid of March. Flood that washed entire villages destroyed countless homes and buildings in just a matter of minute, was the deadliest in more than 15 years. Floods affected 26 of all 31 provinces of Iran. Around 725 bridges were completely destroyed, more than 14,000 kilometers of roads were damaged, and around 4,400 villages were affected. Some USD 2.2-2.6 billion was the estimated cost of total damage.

Heavy monsoon rainfall (late June-early July) hit Nepal hard. At least 70 people were reported dead (according to Nepal Ministry of Home Affairs). More than 30 were reported missing, whereas 2,500 were successfully rescued. The Flooding directly impacted around 2 million people. Displaced people had to shelter in schools and other public buildings. Other than Nepal, rainfall impacted north-east Indian states and several other parts of South Asia.

In late July, heavy monsoon rainfall that lasted up to August, almost drowned India. The most intense rainfall in 25 years (since 1994) whacked more than 13 states, with Karnatka and Maharashtra the severely affected. An estimated 2.5 million people suffered the flood. About a million people were displaced, around 150 people lost their lives, 50 went missing, and 738 were injured. An estimated 190,000 houses were completely destroyed; another 250,000 houses were partially damaged. Some 1,414 million hectares of crops were destroyed, and 20,000 Animals were lost.

The lagoon city of Italy almost drowned when a combination of meteorological storm and strong Sirocco winds blowing North-eastwards brought high tides in Adriatic Sea. Water reached at level of 1.87 meters (6ft) which is recorded after 53 years (lastly in 1966). More than 80% of the city was flooded. The historic St. Mark’s basilica, which is located at the lowest part of the city, was severely damaged. The sturdy situation prompted the mayor of Venice to declare a ‘state of emergency’. The drastic flood expensed hundreds of millions of Euros and possibly an irreversible damage to the city of dreams.

Aftermath

Climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Every climate related disaster is a warning to the climate deniers. Mega multinational companies are so busy capitalizing the world that they don’t seem to take much care of climate related issues. Our world is our home, and there is no Planet-B. Space research agencies, spending millions and billions of dollars to find life on other planets, are averse to use technology to save Earth. Each passing day, month, and year is making it impossible to reverse climate change. There’s a serious urge to take adequate steps to stop the rapid change in climate, or else coming years won’t be much changed than the past year, when we already have lost millions of hectares of forest and tons of glaciers. Draughts, fires, heatwaves, unexpected heavy rains bringing floods, are more likely to appear often.

The writer is a freelance researcher and investigative journalist, she can be reached at zahrakazmi572@gmail.com

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Lahore Times.

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