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Devastation Caused By Powerful Storms Threatens Both The Rich And Poor

At the Dec. 2-14 talks in Poland, arguments are expected over how progress on dealing with "loss and damage" should be assessed in 2023

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Storms
Alma Morales Rosario is pictured between the beams of her home being rebuilt after it was destroyed by Hurricane Maria one year ago in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico. VOA

The devastation caused by powerful storms is a growing threat to both poor and rich nations, propelling Caribbean islands to the top of a global index of countries most severely affected by weather disasters last year, researchers said Tuesday.

The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico was ranked as the hardest-hit, and the island of Dominica came in third place after both were battered by Hurricane Maria last September, according to an annual climate risk index from Germanwatch, an environmental policy group.

The United States ranked 12th in the 2017 index, with 389 fatalities and nearly $175 billion in losses from extreme weather.

“Recent storms with intensity levels never seen before have had disastrous impacts,” said the index’s lead author, David Eckstein.

 

Hurricane, climate change, disasters, U.S., economic, storms
Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, Texas, VOA

Such weather disasters are likely to worsen further in coming years, the U.N. humanitarian agency warned Tuesday, creating significant new humanitarian needs.

Floods, storms and droughts all are expected to strengthen, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its Global Humanitarian Overview 2019 report.

It cited World Bank data predicting 140 million people could be internally displaced by 2050 as a result of global warming.

Among the countries being significantly hit by climate-linked extreme weather is the United States, whose President Donald Trump is one of the most prominent skeptics of man-made climate change, the agency said.

 

Storms
In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, homes lay scattered after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Roseau, the capital of the island of Dominica. VOA

Hurricanes and storms in the United States and Caribbean caused more than $220 billion worth of damage last year, representing nearly two-thirds of global losses caused by natural disasters in 2017, OCHA said.

“Climate events are contributing to greater humanitarian problems than we have seen in the past,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for OCHA. “This is something the world has not yet adapted fully to.”

As hurricanes and tropical cyclones intensify in strength, they are particularly hurting poor nations that are unprepared for the threat, researchers said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Poland.

In the tiny island country of Dominica, Maria caused losses equal to more than twice its gross domestic product, damaging or destroying about 90 percent of housing.

Lloyd Pascal, a Dominican climate negotiator whose home has yet to be fully repaired after being hit by the storm, urged the U.N. talks to pay more attention to “weaker countries.”

Climate Change, hurricane michael, Storms
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael.. VOA

Dominica, with 72,000 people, lacks the ability to prepare for the increasingly severe weather it is suffering, he said.

Even though storm warnings are received, the state does not have resources to evacuate people into shelters, he said, nor understand clearly how heavy rainfall will boost river levels.

“We are just not prepared to do that kind of work,” he told reporters. “We are like sitting ducks.”

But rich countries, including the United States, also are seeing clearer climate impacts, and need to step up efforts to keep their people safe, Germanwatch said.

“Effective climate protection, as well as increasing resilience, is … in the self-interest of these countries,” Eckstein said.

The Germanwatch index highlighted other types of weather-related damage as well, from unusually heavy rainfall to landslides.

Climate Change, hurricane michael, Storms
In this photograph released by the Sri Lankan Air Force media division on May 29, 2017, flooding is seen in the country’s Matara district. VOA

Sri Lanka, the second most-affected country in 2017, saw dramatic floods that year that killed 200 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The U.N. climate negotiations should drum up more support for the poorest countries like Nepal, Vietnam, Sierra Leone and Madagascar to deal with rising losses linked to climate change, Germanwatch said.

All four of those countries figured in the index’s top 10 of nations most affected by weather disasters in 2017.

“They need predictable and reliable financial support for dealing with climate-induced loss and damage,” Eckstein said.

Five years ago, the U.N. climate talks set up a mechanism to better understand the damage that now will be unavoidable as a result of the 1 degree Celsius hike in global temperatures that has already occurred.

Hurricanes, Storms
Interstate Highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. VOA

The mechanism also seeks to find ways to deal with the consequences as the world warms further.

But industrialized countries — which have historically emitted the most climate-changing emissions — have refused to pay compensation to those who are less to blame for global warming yet find themselves on the front line of impacts.

Also Read: Rise in Temperature of Atlantic Ocean Causes Severe Hurricanes: Study

Instead, they are providing access to insurance.

At the Dec. 2-14 talks in Poland, arguments are expected over how progress on dealing with “loss and damage” should be assessed in 2023, when countries measure their climate action against the goals of the Paris climate accord. (VOA)

Next Story

US Scientists Find Out Why Some Don’t Choose to Take Shelter During Tornadoes?

Kim Klockow, a scientist at the University of Oklahoma, is involved in the research as a social scientist and compares her field to medicine

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tornadoes
Police stand at the ruins of a hotel in El Reno, Okla., May 26, 2019, following a likely tornado touchdown late Saturday night. VOA

Following a severe tornado earlier this year in Alabama that killed 23 people, scientists interviewed residents in the area to find out why the storm was so deadly and made an important finding: almost everyone had heard the warnings about the impending storm and had enough time to seek shelter, but some chose not to.

“From a national standpoint, a media standpoint, forecasters did a great job” predicting the March storm in eastern Alabama, Stephen Strader, an atmospheric scientist at Villanova University, said. “But why did we see 23 fatalities? Why didn’t they take shelter?”

These questions are a central part of new research that is being conducted in collaboration between physical scientists, like Strader, and social scientists to try to determine why people behave the way they do during a storm, including whether they choose to seek shelter or not.

The goal of the research is to provide more information to forecasters and policymakers to create better tornado warning systems. Strader said that as a physical scientist, his job is to look at all the physical factors of a storm, including “how wide was it, where did the tornado track, how many homes were damaged.”

He said social scientists, on the other hand, try to find out more information about people’s choices. “We want to understand the decision-making about tornado warnings. If a warning comes, what do you do?” he asked.

tornadoes
FILE – A tornado rips through part of Oklahoma. VOA

Social science

Kim Klockow, a scientist at the University of Oklahoma, is involved in the research as a social scientist and compares her field to medicine. “Everyone wants to know what treatment to pursue, but there needs to be a diagnosis first,” she said, adding that social science is like the diagnosing phase. In the aftermath of a storm, she said, “all we have is the death total, which doesn’t tell us much.”

When a death toll is low, like after a powerful tornado hit Kansas in May but left no fatalities, Klockow said people call it “a miracle.” However, she said even these situations are “frustrating, because we don’t know why” there were no fatalities.

The death rate from tornadoes in the United States had steadily decreased from 1920 to 1990, but since then has stalled, according to research Strader has done. The reasons for this are not well understood, Klockow said. Without more information, “it is hard to say why things are happening the way they are.” “What I’m advocating for is observation,” she said.

Mobile homes

The new research focuses primarily on people who live in mobile homes, as those structures are particularly vulnerable to tornadoes. Roughly half of the fatalities from the March tornado in Alabama were residents of mobile homes.

Strader said it is not just that a mobile home is more vulnerable to storms, but that the people living in them are often more disadvantaged and have more complexities in terms of their decision-making. He said they might not have a vehicle or might not know where to go.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends people who live in mobile homes flee to a safer structure during a tornado, even if their mobile home is tied down, while those who live in traditional houses are advised to go to their basement, or if they do not have one, to an interior room.

tornadoes
A tornado is seen South of Dodge City, Kansas moving North on May 24, 2016 in Dodge City, Kansas. VOA

Strader said there used to be a belief that people who lived in mobile homes were less educated about the weather. However, he said current research shows they know just as much about the weather as anyone else and are also aware that their mobile homes are not safe. However, sometimes they freeze or don’t know where to flee, he said. “There are a lot of issues we have to start dissecting,” he said.

Getting to safety

Strader suggested that the safest course of action would be for people in mobile homes to flee to safety at the first sign that a tornado could strike, when forecasters issue what is called a “tornado watch,” even before a tornado has formed and they announce a “tornado warning.”

ALSO READ: Natural Disasters Take Psychological Toll on Survivors

He acknowledged, however, this could be a difficult choice for people to make. Strader said people have all kinds of belief systems and biases that could prevent them from seeking shelter, including a fatalistic attitude, thinking, “If I am going to die today, it will be today.’”

According to Klockow, people need to be motived with a little fear, which can drive them to action, but warned that too much fear can make people freeze.

“We can find people kneeling on the floor praying instead of trying to get to a shelter,” she said. Klockow said people tend not to blatantly disregard information about an incoming tornado, but said, “very often, people don’t feel that they need to do something about it.” (VOA)