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In August 2023, the Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) tracker identified 19 countries in which militaries were deployed in response to climate hazards, often multiple times to different regions and types of hazard. The tracker identified 35 incidents total.
In the United States, the devastating wildfire in Maui resulted in one of the largest military deployments in response to a single hazard in recent years, which the military has sustained for more than a month. The disaster was the most lethal U.S. wildfire in a century, exceeding the annual deaths from terrorism in the United States in any year since 9/11. The fires prompted the creation of a U.S. Department of Defense task force to coordinate contributions from all U.S. armed forces branches and the National Guard, which have totaled nearly 600 personnel. In support of FEMA, the task force has provided relief services including water and fuel distribution, search and recovery, air and sea transportation, mortuary and forensic services, and facility usage.
The crisis has attracted disinformation as well, such as a false claim that the military had arrested the head of FEMA in the wake of the disaster, Chinese government disinformation that the fires were caused by a U.S. “weather weapon,” and Russian claims that U.S. aid to Ukraine had undermined wildfire response.
The Maui wildfire underscored the fact that militaries are responding to hazards that reflect not only climate change, but broader ecological disruption as well. The fires were likely more destructive because of invasive species (an example of a biotic eruption) and insufficient environmental management. Grasses intentionally introduced in the late 1700s likely contributed to the fires through the buildup of flammable biomass in abandoned post-agricultural lands, which also spread into populated communities. There were many warnings about the risks posed by these invasive grasses prior to the fire, but lack of regulation, resources and urgency confounded efforts to reduce the grasses’ density and to exclude them from populated areas. Further, on Maui, decades of water diversion from streams supporting agriculture and development contributed to a drying of the land, increasing fire risk.
Meanwhile, responses to severe climate hazards prompted thorny political questions. In Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) continued to assist firefighting and evacuations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The summer’s extreme weather prompted one retired Canadian military leader to call for a new national emergency response agency to minimize the burden on the CAF. In China in early August, thousands of People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police personnel conducted evacuations during flooding from the landfall of Typhoon Doksuri, and a decision to divert flood waters to parts of Hebei Province to protect Beijing prompted anger at the government. (For more on the dynamics in China, see our analysis here).
Elsewhere, climate-driven hazards led neighbors to help neighbors, both in the United States and internationally. A wildfire in Louisiana drew in National Guard troops from as far away as Minnesota, while the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was activated for the second time this summer in Greece in response to wildfires. Many countries that deploy in support of the mechanism do so via their militaries, especially smaller countries like Croatia. According to the European Commission, the August fires in Greece were the largest fires ever seen in the EU.
In July 2023, the Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) tracker identified 16 countries in which militaries were deployed in response to climate hazards, often multiple times to different regions and types of hazard. The tracker identified 31 deployments total. Additionally, extreme weather events interrupted military activities and destroyed military infrastructure this month, underscoring the multiple ways in which these hazards strain defense and security capabilities.(more…)
In June, the Military Responses to Climate Hazards (MiRCH) tracker identified 15 instances of military responses to climate change-related hazards across the globe. For much of the month, hundreds of wildfires burned across Canada, leading to the deployment of around 550 troops and associated aircraft equipment to assist in firefighting. The Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Wayne Eyre warned that disaster response is straining the military’s ability to fulfill its core duties, and Ottawa is considering creating a national disaster response agency, akin to FEMA, for the first time.
In the United States in late June, a large swath of the country was experiencing dangerous levels of heat, which the National Weather Service defines as 103° to 125°F. At these temperatures, heat cramps or heat exhaustion are likely, and heat stroke is possible with prolonged exposure or physical activity. The affected region includes multiple military bases such as Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi and Fort Huachuca in Arizona. The latter experienced a wildfire in late June that affected its power supply.
In South Asia, Cyclone Biparjoy prompted the evacuation of 173,000 people in Pakistan and India in June, highlighting challenging dynamics around military deployments to climate hazards. Rivals India and Pakistan deployed military forces to Gujarat and Sindh Provinces, respectively, to deal with Biparjoy’s landfall, almost certainly saving lives. The rival governments’ real-time coordination of relief was reportedly minimal, however, consistent with past disasters, highlighting the obstacles security tensions pose to collaborative responses to transboundary climate hazards. Additionally, in Pakistan, the military conducted short-notice evacuations of 60,000 people to nearby relief camps, highlighting their ability to mobilize quickly, but also spurring complaints from some residents over mandatory relocations and inadequately equipped camps.
Finally, Biparjoy illustrated the compounding strain of back-to-back climate hazards on militaries and communities. In Pakistan, the cyclone hit the same areas that suffered devastating floods last year, while the Indian military the same week had to rescue 2,000 tourists trapped by extreme precipitation and flooding, 1500 miles away in North Sikkim Province.
Meanwhile, events in Myanmar show how repressive militaries can weaponize climate relief. There, Cyclone Mocha’s landfall in mid-May devastated the largely minority Muslim Rakhine state. In recent weeks, the ethnic insurgent group the Arakan Army has provided humanitarian relief and the ruling military junta blocked international aid from reaching needy communities, putting thousands of lives at risk.
To see the full MiRCH tracker with new updates for June, click here.