Washing Away Doubt: How this Summer’s Floods Bring a New Reality to Climate Change

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Washing Away Doubt: How this Summer’s Floods Bring a New Reality to Climate Change

Thatcher Cook/Mercy Corps

Communities all over the globe find themselves wading through the violent realities of climate change this summer.

Studies show that global warming is directly correlated with increased precipitation and that the effects of climate change disproportionately affect the world’s poorest. The death toll from floods highlight the global inequality of climate change: The poorest people are more likely to face death. The poorest countries lack the economic capacity to withstand the shocks.

Hurricane Harvey may dominate mainstream news media, but there’s far more damage being done around the globe by this year’s rainfall.

Mudslides from heavy rains killed at least 1,000 people in Freetown, Sierra Leone, last month. In Niger, 40 people died since the start of the rainy season in June. Thousands have been evacuated from the capital, Niamey.

Floods and landslides in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India  killed more than 1,200 people and displaced millions. Some 18,000 schools were damaged, leaving 1.8 million children without access to education. An estimated 41 million people have been impacted by severe weather.

Bangladesh is the most geographically vulnerable to flooding and a third of the country is currently underwater. Half of Bangladesh’s population live in poverty. Over a million acres of crops have been lost.

Nepal is experiencing its worst flooding in a decade. Hardest hit are its poorest areas, home to subsistence farmers. Some districts of Nepal have lost 89 percent of farmed lands, destroying livelihoods and raising concerns about food security.

Mumbai, India’s financial center, was paralyzed last week as waters flowed down its streets into schools and hospitals. Flights and trains were canceled. A residential building collapsed, killing 21 people. The natural disasters have destroyed rural livelihoods in many Indian states and communities are bracing for sharp increases in unemployment.

In South and Central Yemen, 18 people died after heavy rains led to flash flooding. Yemen is already experiencing an epidemic of cholera, a waterborne disease, as well as famine. Aid resources were already severely strained before flooding.

In the United States, residents of Houston and nearby areas experienced the worst rainfall in U.S. history. So far, 60 people are reported to have died, thousands remain in shelters unsure what home, if any, they’ll return to.

Meanwhile, 23 people in the Caribbean died at the winds of Hurricane Irma, and Barbuda is barely habitable. 

Although climate change is not a direct cause of the rain itself, increased precipitation and risks of flooding are effects of climate change. These regions experience an annual monsoon or rainy season, but this year has been particularly different and, quite frankly, violent.

Thousands of miles apart, these countries face the same concerns and fears that accompany disaster. Access to food and clean water is limited. Parents are left wondering when their children will return to school. Livelihoods are interrupted or destroyed. Poor urban planning, existing poverty, lack of preparation and conflict in some cases further exacerbates the effects of floods that will last long beyond the current rainfall.

Aid groups and governments globally are struggling to address these crises. However, some are in a better position to cope and respond than others.

“When people look at the U.S. response system, we have a very mature federal disaster response system, starting with FEMA. It’s a machine.” says Jono Anzalone, vice president of international services at the American Red Cross. “You don't see that in Nepal, Bangladesh or India. In Nepal and Bangladesh, the government simply doesn't have the resources. There is no tax base to support that robust response and recovery system.”

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