The United Nations has asked that the international community change its response to natural disasters to provide a lasting solution to the global problem.
Given the ever-increasing frequency of severe weather events, human-made catastrophes and epidemics, piecemeal and fragmented responses will fail to address root causes and may in fact compound the challenges, a new United Nations report argues.
The Interconnected Disaster Risks report showed that between 2020 to 2021, the world has experienced 10 disasters, including the Amazon wildfires, the Beirut explosion, and the cold wave in Texas in the United States among others. Addressing the root causes of these disasters would be a better approach to controlling their frequency, according to the report.
“Unless we change our approach to not only ask ‘what’ happened when investigating disasters, but also ‘why’ they happened, any preparatory measures we devise will not be enough,” said Jack O’Connor, a lead author of the report.
To illustrate how disasters are far from localised, the report notes that the Amazon’s human-made wildfires led directly to 2,195 people being hospitalised in South America. But in total, 4.5 million people worldwide were affected by the harmful levels of air pollution.
Disasters can also compound each other.
Last August in Beirut, Lebanon, 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated, causing 200 deaths, 6,000 injuries and up to $4.6bn in damage to local infrastructure.
That disaster further exacerbated the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in the country as already overwhelmed hospitals were hit by a wave of injured people.
Global disasters – whether in Texas or Beirut – should no longer be viewed in isolation, the UN University report says.
Disasters are also interconnected, the report argues, using the example of the link between the Arctic heatwave and the Texas cold wave.
In 2020, the Arctic experienced the second-highest air temperatures on record – a development that could lead to extreme cold spells and heatwaves in Europe and North America.
The report also underscores the need to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions, as it found they were the root cause behind seven of the 10 events the UN University examined. Slowing down climate change to protect biodiversity and give ecosystems a chance to recover from the damage done is also critical.