As 2019 draws to an end, climate-related environmental disasters have left many regions across the world scrambling to mitigate the damages. Some of these natural disasters, like the fires engulfing the Amazon tropical rainforest, pose long-term threats to future global environmental sustainability.
Others, like recent seasonal grassland fires in Southern Africa or recent seismic activity, pose no identifiable threat in the long-run. At least not yet.
Hurricane Dorian has wreaked havoc in the Bahamas while in Kenya, flash floods have claimed seven lives. this after five people died in flash floods in Uganda the week before. In Sudan, 62 people died as a result of widespread flooding after torrential rain in 17 of the country's 18 states.
Despite seismic activity in North and South America, Greece, the Far East off the coast of Russia and the Asia Pacific Region, no serious earthquake damage has been reported.
At least five people have been confirmed dead after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Abaco in the Bahamas Islands, unleashing destructive winds for a period of nearly 24 hours.
The American Red Cross says the storm has left catastrophic damage in its wake, destroying homes and contaminating water sources. According to reports, up to 15 000 homes are believed to have been seriously damaged by the storm.
Source: United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
The hurricane is currently moving westward, and appears to have stalled over Grand Bahama, moving at approximately 1 mph. According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the slow pace of Dorian over the Bahamas is delaying the deployment of assessment teams that are currently on standby.
Source: National Hurricane Center
Fires continue in the Amazon, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Angola
Fires continue to rage across parts of Southern Africa and Latin America. These include the Amazon forest and areas near the borders of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. In Southern Africa, widespread fires have mostly occurred in Angola.
While seasonal fires are common in Angola, 2019 has seen them occur in much higher numbers than previous years. Despite this, NASA’s Fire Energetics and Emissions Research say the fires are not unusual so far. This according to Charles Uchoku, who is a climate and fire researcher based in Howard University.
Uchoku says low intensity of the fires in Angola means there isn’t much to worry about. “These are mostly smaller agricultural fires, as opposed to large forest fires,” Uchoku explains.
Seven killed in flash floods at Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya
In Kenya, heavy rainfall in the highland areas were funnelled into narrow gorges in Hell’s Gate National Park on September 1, 2019. At least seven people are believed to have died in flash floods in the park. Of the seven, six were tourist - five Kenyan nationals and one Indian national. A local tour guide also died.
According to wildlife services in the region, a similar tragedy was reported in 2012. Since then, clearly marked emergency exits have been marked along the gorge in case of flooding.
Meanwhile, landslides and flash floods in Uganda’s Bulambuli District in the Eastern Region claimed the lives of five victims on August 27. By August 28, the death toll from flash floods in Sudan had exceeded 60 people, with thousands more displaced after torrential downpours.
Multiple earthquakes around the world, no serious damage recorded
Source: United States Geological Survey
On September 3, 2019, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) identified 33 active earthquakes, spread across North and South America and the Asia-Pacific region. No serious damage related to this recent seismic activity has been reported by authorities so far.
In the Americas, earthquakes were reported in Alaska, Washington, California, Utah and Hawaii, parts of Chile, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. No seismic activity has been recorded in Africa.
On mainland Europe, seismic activity was recorded in Molos in Greece and Yayladere in Turkey.
The Korsakov area in Russia’s Far Eastern region has also been affected by an earthquake, with more seismic activity recorded in Indonesia, Guam and Fiji.
The link to climate change
While fires, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes might seem unrelated, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that climate change has an effect on each of these phenomena. Drought conditions increase the fuel load for fires - this means there is more dry material to keep fires burning hot and strong. Hurricanes increase in intensity as ocean currents are influenced by warmer global temperatures, and flooding increases as the climate shifts. Regions that have experienced long periods of drought are also more prone to flooding when rains do eventually fall.
Geoscientists also believe that tropical storms and flooding can result in shifts in the fault planes that results in seismic activity, triggering earthquakes in the affected regions.
While the general consensus is that while climate change may not yet have an impact on the number of tropical storms, it does affect their intensity, setting off a chain reaction that can be felt for months and years after the storm has blown over.
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