What We’re Watching: Weekly Disaster Update

October 12, 2021 • By Matthew Woodall

Copernicus Sentinel captured this image of La Palma island and the ongoing eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, Oct. 10, 2021. (European Space Agency via Twitter @ESA_EO)

We know all too well that disaster can strike at any time, in any place in the world. Some disasters make headlines; others do not. Here at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), we keep an eye on the status of disasters worldwide and compile a list of the ones we’re tracking weekly, along with relevant disaster-related media coverage.

Here’s what we’re watching for the week of Oct. 11, 2021.

New or emerging disasters
Earthquake – Pakistan: A powerful and shallow 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Balochistan region of Pakistan near the town of Quetta on Oct. 6. Homes and other buildings in the region are constructed mainly from mud and other materials that aren’t earthquake-resistant, leading to the collapse of approximately 100 homes while people were sleeping. At least four people were killed in the collapse of a coal mine, while at least 19 more died as a result of the earthquake.

Flooding – Multiple Countries

  • Alabama: A series of slow-moving heavy rainstorms brought 4-5 inches (100-130 mm) of rain per hour for multiple hours to parts of Alabama. At least four people died, including a young child who was swept away in a vehicle with at least three other people who survived.
  • Indonesia: Four people died when heavy rain caused the Batusitanduk River to overflow and sodden earth to cascade down in South Sulawesi province. Approximately 20 more people were injured, 169 were evacuated and more than 3,000 people were affected.
  • Mexico: The province of Querétaro saw heavy rain for four days, forcing officials to open dams along the San Juan and Querétaro rivers that were already above flooding stage. Mexico’s National Guard was deployed to support some of the 2,440 evacuees from the 3,500 damaged homes and other buildings. At least six people died when they were swept away by the floodwaters, though at least one person is still missing.

Previous/ongoing disasters
Volcanic Eruption – Spain: La Cumbre Vieja entered its fourth week of ongoing volcanic activity with a bang as a lava cone collapsed and “lava bombs,” blocks of molten lava the size of three-story buildings, flowed down the sides of the volcano. These new lava emissions have destroyed the few untouched buildings in the town of Todoque, bringing the total number of buildings destroyed to almost 1,200. The unearthly beauty of La Cumbre Vieja’s eruption isn’t limited to its lava; NASA satellites caught a mesmerizing bullseye of clouds caused when an eruption on Oct. 9 sent a wave of pressure straight into the air.

2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season: As of Oct. 11, officials are monitoring two areas in the Atlantic that have low potential to develop into tropical storms.

A new ocean-going drone operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has brought back the first images from the center of a hurricane. The Saildrone uncrewed surface vehicle was designed to sail through hurricane-force winds, and did so on Sept. 30, sailing into the heart of Hurricane Sam.

Please read our 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season disaster profile for the latest information.

North American Wildfires: As of Oct. 6, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has stopped issuing daily situation reports. As of that date, there were 44 active fires: 39 were uncontained large fires. A total of 46,582 fires have burned approximately 6.4 million acres.

Despite the slowdown in administrative reporting, the fire season continues, with the KNP Complex in California’s Sequoia National Park remaining very active. As of Oct. 11, it was mapped at 87,468 acres and 30% containment as more than 2,100 personnel attempted to gain control. Despite the best efforts of firefighters, air tanker pilots and heavy equipment operators, the fires have burned into at least 15 groves of giant sequoia trees. The KNP Complex has demonstrated the dangers wildland firefighters face as two of the four of that were injured by a falling tree had to be flown to the closest hospital.

Despite the wildfire season in Canada slowing down at the end of September, the province of Saskatchewan is suffering a new outbreak of wildfires. As of Oct. 11, there were 17 active fires across the province, including three that are still not contained. Air quality concerns and the proximity to the fires forced the Red Earth and Shoal Lake first nations to evacuate for the second time in 2021 after they were forced to evacuate in July for the same reasons. Indigenous leaders criticized the provincial response after being given a tour of the area, as provincial officials scrambled to recall seasonal firefighters whose contracts had already finished.

CDP regularly updates a North American Wildfires Season disaster profile with information on the fires and advice on how funders can help address critical needs.

Worldwide – Coronavirus: CDP maintains a regularly updated profile with a focus on how philanthropy can help. As of Sept. 17, philanthropy had committed $25.84 billion in funding since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of Oct. 12, worldwide cases topped 239 million, with new cases continuing to decrease, reaching approximately 400,000 average daily new cases. Officials are concerned about variants spreading widely, primarily DeltaLambda and the new Mu variant that shows increased transmissibility and possibly some resistance to vaccines. There have been almost 4.9 million deaths, and more than 216 million people have recovered.

While the number of cases shows that the world is in a fourth wave, the number of related deaths has not spiked like in other waves. In January, at the height of the second wave, there were approximately 17,500 global deaths daily. During the peak of the third wave, that number had dropped to approximately 16,500 daily deaths. During this fourth wave, the daily number of deaths has not exceeded 12,000.

Around the world, the highest number of cases are in the U.S. (44.5 million), followed by India (33.8 million) and Brazil (21.4 million). Of particular note, the United States has continued to see a week-over-week decrease in the number of cases, with 639,000 cases in the past seven days, down 23% from the seven days before that. Despite this improvement, the U.S. continues to have almost three times as many cases as the United Kingdom – the country with the second most weekly cases. Much more troubling is that the U.S. has almost three times as many deaths per 1 million population.

According to Our World in Data, there have been more than 6.52 billion doses (not total vaccinations) of COVID-19 vaccines given worldwide as of Oct. 11 – enough that just more than 46.7% of the world population has received at least one dose and 35.13% are fully vaccinated. Most of these have been administered in the U.S., China, India and the European Union. While these numbers are promising, only 2.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose – a number that has only increased by less than one percent in the past few weeks.

Complex Humanitarian Emergency – Sahel Region
Africa’s Sahel region is a belt of desert approximately 620 miles (1,000 km) wide along the south edge of the Sahara that stretches 3,360 miles (5,400 km) from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. While this area officially includes areas with their own complex humanitarian emergencies (CHEs), the Central Sahel Region comprising Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are suffering from the complex interactions of violence, displacement, climate change and human rights violations. A new article by the International Rescue Committee cites Niger as one of the five most challenging places to be a girl, stating, “Roughly 1 in 5 adolescent girls in Niger gives birth before 18.”

According to the latest situation report by the World Food Programme (WFP) released on Aug. 30, a total of 14.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in these three countries. Included in those numbers are 2 million displaced people, many of who have fled to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Despite the immense need, there is only enough funding for the WFP to reach less than half of those in need.

On Oct. 2, a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) aid convoy was attacked in Mali, resulting in the death of one Egyptian Peacekeeper and injuries to four more. The security situation remains challenging, leading to significant difficulties in getting aid into the region and into the hands of those who need it most.

What we’re reading

  • Climate Justice: My grief and guilt are not enough – Sojourners: “With local volunteers rushing around to set up the distribution lines and check off each voucher card so families received just enough food and seeds to survive until the next drop-off, I took a moment to listen to the story of an older man named Innocent, who was waiting for food to feed himself and his nine children.”
  • World leaders urged to consider health benefits of climate action – The Guardian: An open letter signed by more than 400 international health organizations representing two-thirds of health care workers around the world is calling on international leaders to consider the 7 million premature deaths and other health implications of climate action or inaction at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
  • Mexico police intercept 652 Central American migrants in three cargo trucks – The Guardian: Some of the poorest people in the world continue to take drastic action as they attempt to find a better life in the United States. These 652 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors, had approximately 2 square feet each in their attempt to reach the southern border of the U.S.
  • The burning season: Wildfires sweeping across South Africa and Namibia have left devastation in their wake – The Daily Maverick (South Africa): “Parts of the Magaliesberg Biosphere, an international reserve proclaimed by UNESCO in 2015 for its exceptional natural, cultural and human characteristics, were burnt by veld fires last month. The reserve also forms part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site. Stoch said losses at the heritage site could not be quantified, and that the hidden cost is the loss to the environment and its tourism potential.”
  • The Amazon rainforest is losing 200,000 acres a day. Soon it will be too late – The Guardian: “That equates to an average of some 200,000 acres every day, or 40 football fields per minute. In Brazil alone, home to the greatest expanse of forest, the rate of loss has increased by more than 30%. The Amazon – historically a great carbon absorber, since trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen – now releases more carbon than it stores, which adds to, rather helps to reduce, our global climate crisis.”
  • Two years after the bushfires my town is recovering, but the scars remain – The Guardian: While the physical recovery of many areas burned during the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, the combination of COVID-19 and the struggle to rebuild has left many people unsure of what the future holds.
  • Reconsider raising dam wall: committee – Canberra Times: While the solution to flooding may seem as simple as building a higher wall, the city of Canberra is calling on the New South Wales government to get the consent of Indigenous people before doing so.
  • Rotting Red Sea oil tanker could leave 8m people without water – The Guardian: “The impact of an oil spill in the Red Sea from a tanker that is rotting in the water could be far wider than anticipated, with 8 million people losing access to running water and Yemen’s Red Sea fishing stock destroyed within three weeks.”
  • Commissioner Lenarčič takes part in earthquake exercise, with emergency responders from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy and Slovenia – European Commission: Slovenia demonstrates that the involvement and participation of senior political leaders is crucial to the success of exercises.

As we approach the second anniversary of the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, five firefighters in rural Western Australia have doubled the number of recipients of an exclusive 15-year-old award for outstanding service.

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