In short, two months after Hurricane Maria pummeled this island, the U.S. response remains too slow and bureaucratic, and lacks transparency and the broad information-sharing that is essential to an effective disaster response.
As the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas face the long road to recovery following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, a window of opportunity exists to mitigate the human displacement created by these large-scale disasters and to build resilience to future events. These two priorities should inform how the United States is responding to these types of disasters. This blog outlines some important lessons that must inform the hurricane response in the future if we are going to keep pace with the increasing impacts of climate change impacts on population displacement:
Somalia is again in the throes of another drought that by many accounts is worse than the last. Thankfully, greater government control and a prompt humanitarian response by the government and aid agencies have saved lives, but the scale of displacement is enormous. More than 760,000 Somalis have been displaced across the country since November 2016, 160,000 of them to Mogadishu. Here they are struggling to access assistance and protection in a dangerous and volatile environment.
In early October 2016, the Southwest region of Haiti was devastated by Hurricane Matthew, a category four storm. Tragically, the areas it hit were among the poorest. The government reported more than 2.1 million people were affected by the hurricane, with 800,000 in need of urgent food assistance. While four months have passed since Matthew hit, conditions on the ground are not much different today. Haiti faces a long road ahead.
During the annual May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences low-level flooding, which creates favourable conditions for rice cultivation, Myanmar’s leading crop. However, in July 2015, heavier than normal downpours combined with the arrival of Cyclone Komen created unprecedented flash floods, general flooding, and landslides, a national disaster that affected 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. An estimated 1.6 million people were displaced and more than 20 percent of Myanmar’s cultivated land was damaged.
In September, Refugees International returned to some of the hardest hit areas in Rakhine State, Sagaing Region, and Chin State to see how communities were recovering a year after the flooding.
Each year throughout the May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences increased rainfall and flooding. This is a part of life. However, in late July and early August 2015 record-level rainfall, worsened by tropical Cyclone Komen, led to unprecedented levels of flooding and subsequent landslides, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency.
In a research paper released last week by climate change guru Dr. James Hansen, he and 16 fellow scientists make the case that warming-induced melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is happening much more quickly than previously anticipated. Needless to say, the idea that parts of Manhattan or Miami could be underwater in as soon as 50 years has sparked a good deal of alarm – and controversy, as the tricky business of climate modeling always does. But the fact that scientists still can’t say with certainty exactly how soon, or under what warming scenarios, major changes to the climate system are going to occur has made one thing evident: we’re simply not prepared – physically, psychologically, or policy-wise – to deal with that reality anytime soon.
On Thursday, the Vatican will release Pope Francis’ first encyclical on the theme of the environment and the poor. In addition to emphasizing how environmental destruction and natural resource exploitation harm the poor, the document is expected to include a statement on role of humans in contributing to climate change. Given the Pope’s popularity, and as the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, his decision to narrow in on environmental exploitation and climate change has garnered significant attention from all sides.
Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall. But as global climate change continues, such super-stroms could become much more common. That’s why, in addition to providing emergency relief, Philippine officials are trying to move populations away from the sea and clearing out so-called “no build zones.” Relocation may be necessary, but so far it has been a confusing and slow process. Families know they need to leave, but not where or when they will go, or whether they’ll have access to jobs and schools when they get there. It is vital that relocated families get the help they need quickly, and that the authorities respect their rights.