By Sunny Lewis
GENEVA, Switzerland, May 7, 2019 (Maximpact.com News) – This cyclone season in the Indian Ocean Basin has been exceptionally fierce, with 15 storms, including nine intense cyclones, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). At least a million people had to be evacuated from stricken coastal areas in India, while over a thousand died in eastern African countries.
Rising sea levels and warming waters are affecting Indian Ocean cyclones such as the unprecedented duo – cyclones Idai and Kenneth – that swept across Mozambique in recent weeks, climate experts cautiously state.
“There is no record of two storms of such intensity striking Mozambique in the same season,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization.
“It is difficult to pronounce on one event like Idai, or even two like Idai and Kenneth. The statistical size of the sample is just too small,” she said. “But one thing is sure: The vulnerability of coastal areas will become worse with the sea-level rise induced by global warming.”
Iraq and Iran Flooded
Hundreds of miles to the north, but still in the Indian Ocean’s sphere of influence, heavy rains in Iraq and neighboring Iran in late March and early April resulted in floods that have left over 100,000 children and their families without access to clean water and sanitation in Missan, a governorate in Iraq’s south. An additional 20,000 people, including children, have been displaced.
Vulnerable communities have resorted to using flood water for their basic needs, a risky practice that could make them sick.
While unusually heavy and persistent rain continued, the snow on mountain peaks was beginning to melt. Though the end of winter and start of spring have brought seasonal floods to this part of the world since ancient times, this spring has been severe in some areas of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has come to the rescue. “UNICEF is working around the clock to support children and their families with safe drinking water and sanitation services, providing buckets, hygiene kits and prefabricated toilets,” said Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF’s Representative in Iraq.
“We are also working with the community to raise awareness on proper hygiene and sanitation. We are doing everything we can to prevent the outbreak of diseases,” she explained.
Schools have been affected by the floods, especially in the Maimona, Amara, Al Salam and Ali Al Gharbi sub-districts. As part of the emergency response, UNICEF is providing four prefab classrooms, washroom facilities, and water supply tanks. UNICEF will also fund the building of mud barriers around a number of schools in order to isolate them from flood waters.
Child survivors of Cyclone Idai stranded in trees to escape the flood waters. April 2019 (Screengrab from video “Cyclone Idai: In Mozambique a Fight for Survival” courtesy UN High Commission for Refugees) Posted for media use
In March, farther to the south, Intense Tropical Cyclone Idai became the deadliest and costliest tropical cyclone of the year. Causing more than $2 billion in damages, Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.
Formed March 4 and finally dissipated March 21, the long-lasting storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving at least 1,007 people dead and thousands more missing. The cyclone’s exact death toll may never be known.
More than three million people felt the direct effects of Cyclone Idai, with hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. Infrastructure damage from Idai across the affected countries totaled at least US$1 billion.
An estimated 400,000 people were displaced by Cyclone Idai and the resulting floods.
A major humanitarian crisis beset the cyclone-damaged area, with hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of assistance across Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Malaria and cholera outbreaks are keeping healthcare personnel busy.
Médecins Sans Frontières arrived in Beira on 18 March to assess medical needs and treat victims. With clinics and hospitals across the region severely damaged or destroyed or lacking power and water, efforts to treat injuries were hampered.
The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis overwhelmed rescuers. In many instances, victims had to be abandoned in fatal conditions in order to save others in more dire need, reported Agence-France Presse.
The National Disasters Management Institute, normally considered capable of handling disasters in Mozambique, could not cope with the scale of the disaster. The agency deployed boats and helicopters to save residents, but thousands of survivors stranded in trees and on rooftops five days after the cyclone hit.
People are mired in the muddy flood waters in Pemba, Mozambique, after Cyclone Kenneth dumped heavy rain on the area, April 26, 2019 (Photo courtesy UNICEF) Posted for media use
Then, just as recovery from Idai was starting to get underway, Tropical Cyclone Kenneth struck the same region, making landfall on April 25 at Pemba, in northern Mozambique where no cyclone has ever hit before.
The strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Mozambique since modern records began, Cyclone Kenneth also caused major damage in the Comoro Islands and Tanzania.
Prior to Kenneth’s landfall, local authorities evacuated over 30,000 people in the path of the storm in northern Mozambique.
Kenneth killed at least 48 people in total. In the country of Comoros, Kenneth’s wind and rainfall caused at least seven deaths, while 41 people were killed in Mozambique.
Tropical Cyclone Fani, spinning over the Bay of Bengal, is advancing northwest toward India’s east coast. May 1, 2019 (Photo courtesy NASA) Public domain
Most recently, on May 3, Cyclone Fani made landfall on the coast of Odisha, India, lashing the state with pounding rain and winds of up to 175 miles an hour (209 km/h).
The strongest cyclonic storm to hit India in nearly two decades, Cyclone Fani killed 35 people in Odisha, 14 people in Bangladesh, and eight in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
More than 10,000 villages and 52 towns in Odisha may have been affected, according to the government. Odisha (formerly Orissa), an eastern Indian state on the Bay of Bengal, is known for its tribal cultures and its many ancient Hindu temples.
Cyclone Fani made landfall near the northeast coastal city of Puri
Oxfam workers out assessing humanitarian needs and helping communities in the Fani’s wake say large parts of the temple town Puri were inundated by heavy rains, while the storm toppled trees and electricity poles, blacking out power in many areas of Odisha.
Tens of millions of people in the cyclone’s path received warnings. In India, about 1.1 million people were evacuated away from the coast; in Bangladesh, 1.6 million were evacuated.
In India and Bangladesh, in coordination with government agencies, staff and volunteers issued warnings to communities at risk. The Indian Red Cross opened 65 shelters in Odisha state, and helped vulnerable people to evacuate. More than 15,000 people stayed in Red Cross shelters.
Bangladesh’s renowned and life-saving cyclone preparedness system swung into action. Volunteers in the Red Crescent/government cyclone preparedness program alerted communities and provided information about the threats, potential impact and dangers through social media, megaphones and loudspeakers, and helped vulnerable people to evacuate. An estimated 50,000 cyclone preparedness community volunteers were involved.
Highlighting the zero-casualty cyclone preparedness policy of the Indian Government, Denis McClean, a spokesman for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that “the almost pinpoint accuracy of the early warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department had enabled the authorities to conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan, which had involved moving more than one million people into storm shelters.”
Local authorities are accommodating evacuees in over 4,000 shelters, including 880 specially designed to withstand cyclones.
“Schools were shut, airports closed, and transport suspended, and although damage to infrastructure was expected to be severe, there were no reports of any deaths,” McClean said.
According to the World Metereological Organization, the forecast on Friday was that Cyclone Fani “would move north-northeast towards Bangladesh where there were concerns about the effects of potential coastal flooding.”
The impact is expected to be less severe in such areas of Bangladesh such as Cox’s Bazar, the location of the world’s largest refugee camp, populated mainly by Rohingya who have fled northern Myanmar. Still, the World Meteorological Organization says that heavy rainfall and strong winds will affect the UN refugee camps there.
The UN’s World Food Programme said in a statement that its staff had been completing engineering and disaster risk reduction work around Cox’s Bazar, to make the camps safer and more accessible, during the monsoon and cyclone seasons.
Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel said that extra stocks of food and prepositioned supplies are in place, in case of any impact, and teams are monitoring the potential impact on the refugee camps.
Cyclone Kenneth occurred on the eve of a week-long WMO fact-finding mission to Mozambique to discuss with authorities the lessons learned from Cyclone Idai and future measures to improve the effectiveness of early warnings and public safety.
The impact of climate change and sea level rise on Mozambique’s resilience to such tropical cyclones and extreme weather is also likely to feature in the discussions.
Featured Image: Mozambique evacuees try to escape the flooding from Cyclone Idai, March 15, 2019 (Photo by Denis Onyodi courtesy IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre) Creative Commons license via Flickr