‘Recent Unusual Weather Worldwide Calls for Urgent Preventive Action’ 

Human Wrongs Watch

Extreme tornadoes in the United States over Christmas, abnormal snowfalls in Mexico, and heavy flooding in South America and the United Kingdom show that governments must take more preventive action to reduce human and economic losses from weather-related disasters, a senior UN official on 29 December 2015 warned.

Flooding in the community of Chaco’i, 30 miles from Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, in July 2014. Photo: UNICEF/ Martin Crespo

“Prevention measures including upgrading early warning systems to deal with the new climate variability, revising building codes to ensure more resilience of critical infrastructure such as schools, hospital and roads, and more investment in flood defences are critical to protect more people against disaster impacts,” said Margareta Wahlström, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

“We have no time to lose as weather-related disasters continue to increase, affecting millions of people.”

Over the weekend, tornadoes and storms killed more than 20 people in the US states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois, and flattened hundreds of buildings and houses.

“More people are at risk due to increased urbanization,” Wahlström said. “Reducing spatial density of single family housing and increasing the resilience of houses against heavier wind load can reduce tornado impacts.”

Meanwhile, the intense floods in South America are considered the worst in the past 10 years, forcing more than 170,000 people to evacuate in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

“The abnormal flooding is consistent with the prediction made by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) last November. We cannot ignore science. Their findings need to be better included in long-term policies,” Wahlström added.

Last month, WMO warned that the majority of international climate outlook models indicated that the 2015-16 El Niño weather phenomenon was set to strengthen before the end of the year, causing more flooding and more droughts, setting it among the three strongest since 1950.

The phenomenon, characterized by a warming of the Pacific Ocean, is also triggering a rise in drought in different parts of the Americas, sparking the worst droughts in decades in Central America and Haiti, and that they will continue into 2016.

In Mexico, snowfall over the weekend blanketed 32 towns in the state of Chihuahua, with some places hit by accumulations of 30 centimetres and temperatures of -18 degrees Celsius.

Further afield, December has seen communities in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire in the UK swamped by rising waters with damages that could exceed £1.5 billion according to financial analysts.

“The repetitive floods in the UK and unusual snowstorms in Mexico are alerting the world about how difficult it is to predict global warming impacts and climate change,” Wahlström said. (Source: UN).

Powerful El Niño intensifying in Asia and the Pacific region – UN

A mother carries her daughter as they evacuate from Typhoon Koppu-hit town of Laur, Philippines, on 19 October 2015. The ongoing El Niño pattern is likely to be one of the strongest since 1998 and will continue into early 2016. Photo: UNICEF/Jeoffrey Maitem

The ongoing El Niño weather pattern in the Asia and Pacific is likely to be one of the strongest since 1998 and will continue into early 2016, according to a new United Nations advisory, which urges regional cooperation for early warning, in-season mitigation, and long-term adaptation strategies to curb climate risk.**

“The impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño could be even more severe in certain locations, such as the uplands of Cambodia, central and southern India, eastern Indonesia, the central and southern Philippines, central and northeast Thailand…” stated the Third Advisory Note on El Niño issued jointly by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES).

While many southeast Asian countries, particularly India and Sri Lanka, expect to face severe flooding caused by heavy rainfalls, some Pacific islands – Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu, among others – have been experiencing a serious drought, causing water shortage and food insecurity, according to the report.

“One of the most significant impacts is on agriculture, which is a key component of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for many Pacific countries,” warned the report.

Noting that the current UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris has discussed and addressed the impacts brought by El Niño, and that actions are being taken in some countries, the publication provided key guidance in this regard.

Regional cooperation, the note stressed, is of great importance, given the transboundary nature of El Niño risks.

Early warning and monitoring, pre- or in-season mitigation, adaptation and response, as well as long-term risk management should be considered to tackle some shared vulnerabilities and risks.

“Only by coming together in the spirit of cooperation can the Asia-Pacific region hope to become truly disaster resilient and achieve sustainable development in the future,” said the guidance.(**Source: UN).

2015 Human Wrongs Watch


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