The world is currently witnessing an unprecedented level of extreme events that have profound impacts on both people and nature. These events include severe weather occurrences, epidemics, and human-made disasters, which are increasingly frequent. Initially, these disasters were perceived as isolated incidents that affected specific regions for a limited period.
However, the Interconnected Disaster Risks report published by the United Nations University delves deeper into the analysis and reveals the interconnected nature of these disaster events. Here are some examples:
Interconnected events: In 2020, the Arctic experienced the second-highest air temperatures and the second-lowest sea ice coverage on record. These changes had a far-reaching impact on the climate outside of the Arctic, resulting in extreme cold spells and heatwaves in Europe and North America. The Texas cold wave in 2021, for instance, was likely influenced by rising temperatures in the Arctic, which destabilized the polar vortex and caused it to shift southward into North America.
Compounding effects: Disasters not only have interconnections but can also compound one another, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Amphan in the border region of India and Bangladesh. Due to the pandemic, many individuals, including migrant workers, were compelled to return to their home areas and were accommodated in cyclone shelters while under quarantine. In May 2020, Super Cyclone Amphan struck the region, resulting in over 100 fatalities, damages exceeding $13 billion, and the displacement of 4.9 million people. Concerns about social distancing, hygiene, and privacy led many to avoid evacuating to shelters. While the pandemic made preparations for the cyclone more challenging, the cyclone itself exacerbated the conditions for pandemic response in its aftermath.
Relation with individual and collective behaviour: The interconnectedness of global supply chains reveals that meat consumption contributes to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. High global demand for meat necessitates substantial quantities of animal fodder, such as soy, which requires vast expanses of farmland. Combined with local political decisions, limited monitoring, and enforcement, this has resulted in an alarming rate of deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon.
Same root causes: Surprisingly, many seemingly unrelated events share similar underlying systems and structures that allow disasters to occur. For example, insufficient disaster risk management contributed to the significant impacts of the Texas cold wave, but the same root cause played a role in other events such as the Beirut explosion or the desert locust outbreak.
The three most commonly identified root causes are human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, inadequate disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.
Understanding the interconnections between global disasters and their causes is crucial for building resilient communities and sustainable futures. By identifying these interconnections, we can enhance our understanding of risks and mitigation strategies. This underscores the urgency of recognizing the limitations of fragmented responses and developing coordinated solutions that leverage interconnectivity to reduce risks and mitigate the severity of impacts, thereby preventing cascading disasters.
For instance, reducing greenhouse gas emissions could eventually lead to a decrease in the frequency and intensity of hazards associated with atmospheric and ocean warming, such as the floods in Central Vietnam triggered by tropical storms and cyclones. This approach can effectively reduce risks in vulnerable areas.
Moreover, comprehending the interconnections enables collective action at the global level, facilitating changes in larger systemic processes and ideally preventing similar events from occurring in the future.