Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

The human cost of interconnected calamities, from locusts to cyclones

September 23, 2021

Many extreme environmental calamities  have disastrous consequences for people’s lives, and according to a recent UN assessment, many of them are linked by the same underlying causes

Climate change-related calamities are becoming increasingly intertwined and exacerbating each other over the planet, ranging from Amazon wildfires to last year’s Texas cold wave. On the surface, the massive locust swarm that hit the Horn of Africa in the spring of 2020 and Cyclone Amphan, which hit the border region of India and Bangladesh in May of that year, don’t appear to be linked, but a report released on Wednesday by UN University, the UN’s academic and research arm, shows that there were common underlying causes: greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.

Both calamities occurred in 2020, when the world was in the grip of the COVID-19 epidemic, reducing the efficacy of the disaster response, restricting movement for both humanitarians and victims, who also became more financially susceptible. Susan Mumbi Karanja, a farmer from Nyandarua County in Kenya, and Sudhansu Shekhar Maity, who sells stationery in Kolkata, India, have both shared their stories with the United Nations.

The world saw a series of record-breaking disasters in 2020/2021: the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the globe, a cold wave struck Texas, wildfires damaged nearly 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and Viet Nam had 9 severe storms in just 7 weeks. Both current and future calamities can be better comprehended by looking back at past events through the lens of interconnection. “When disasters are reported in the news, they frequently appear far away,” said UNU-EHS Senior Scientist Dr. Zita Sebesvari, one of the report’s lead authors.

The recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold snap in Texas are two examples of this. The Arctic saw the second-highest air temperatures and the second-lowest sea ice cover on record in 2020. The polar vortex, a whirling mass of frigid air above the North Pole, is destabilised by rising temperatures in the Arctic, allowing colder air to drift southward towards North America.