The unprecedented Hurricane Sandy, which hit heavily-inhabited low lying areas along the East Coast of the United States, has claimed over 110 lives, according to the most recent reports. While it is too soon for anyone to definitively claim that the storm resulted from climate change, its unusual path has raised that very question, and a number of experts are also reinforcing the simple fact that projected climatic changes, and projected rises in sea levels, will likely make these kinds of extreme events more common in the coming decades (and that places like New York City may need to permanently expand their flood zones). The hurricane has led both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, to make strong public declarations about the need to prepare for expected climatic changes.
But the United States was not the only nation to suffer a storm-induced disaster this past week and a half. Two other parts of the world were also hit hard.
Vietnam, the Philippines and China were ravaged by tropical storm Son-Tinh last Sunday, which has thus far resulted in 35 deaths, and major flooding throughout the region. In addition to the death toll, the storm had a significant effect on agricultural production. According to Xinhua New Agency, quoted by Bloomberg:
About 19,361 hectares of rice and 70,932 hectares of other crops were submerged by floodwaters as yesterday morning, according to the Vietnamese statement. The storm blew off the roofs of 47,400 homes. In Hainan, 10,900 hectares of crops were damaged, 716 houses destroyed and 126,000 people were relocated from low-lying areas, Xinhua said.
In Somalia, heavy rains that began Friday, October 26 have led to devastating floods. From IRIN, the humanitarian news service:
“More than 3,000 to 4,000 families in nine villages of Togdheer Region displaced by heavy rains last Friday [26 October ] need immediate assistance,” Abdo Aayir Osman, the governor of Togdheer Region, told IRIN by telephone from the regional capital Burao. He added that at least three people had died after their homes flooded.
The floodwaters have also damaged foodstuffs in stores in Qori-Lugud District and areas such as Daba-Qabad, Tallo Buuro, Bali-Alanle and Gubato. Some 7,000 to 9,000 heads of livestock drowned, Osman said.
These three events are far too recent to allow for analysts to draw any definitive conclusions about their main drivers, and causes. However, happening at around the same time, they do provide the world with a worrying snapshot of the kinds of extreme weather we can expect more of in the future, and the kinds of damage to life, infrastructure, agriculture and economies, we need to be prepared for. One does not need much of an imagination to understand that such events, happening more often and with increasing intensity (and in some cases, happening in places where they rarely ever happen) may have a profound impact on economic and political systems across the globe.
Is this the new normal? Probably. Can governments and societies afford to act like it isn’t? Probably not.