Human Activity, The Common Thread of All  Natural Disasters

Strengthening Flood Early Warning Systems: A Critical Step

Disasters such as floods, cyclones, and droughts are more connected and human activity is the common thread in all the disasters, said a new study on human link and disasters.

The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looked at ten different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021 and finds that even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.

“Nobody is an island. We are interconnected. Our actions have consequences – for all of us. As we become ever-more interconnected, so do the risks we share. To manage these risks, we need to understand why and how they are interconnected. Only then can we find appropriate solutions, “the report stated.

The ten interconnected disasters that took place in 2020/2021 are;

  1. Amazon Wildfires – Wildfires fuelled by global appetite
  2. Arctic Heat wave – Spiralling into a climate disaster
  3. Beirut Explosion – When the global community abandons ship
  4. Central Viet Nam Floods – When being prepared is no longer enough
  5. Chinese Paddlefish Extinction – The fish that survived the dinosaur extinction but not humankind
  6. COVID-19 Pandemic – How a pandemic is showing us the value of biodiversity
  7. Cyclone Amphan- When a cyclone and a pandemic combine
  8. Desert Locust outbreak – How manageable risks spin out of control
  9. Great Barrier Reef bleaching – Losing more than a natural wonder
  10. Texas cold wave – A preventable catastrophe?

In the report, the UN experts identify three major root causes that affected most of the events. They are human-induced greenhouse gas emissions,  insufficient disaster risk management and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making. The human induced greenhouse gas emissions is identified as one of the reasons behind Texas experiencing freezing temperatures. They also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan. Insufficient disaster risk management was also the reason why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central VietNam floods. The deforestation in Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat and this demand led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down the report mentioned.

UN University scientist Jack O’Connor, who is one of the authors, said “what we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour. Our actions have consequences, for all of



The report mentions that Interconnections of disasters are not limited to those between faraway locations but can also compound each other, as happened with the COVID-19 pandemic and Cyclone Amphan in the border region of India and Bangladesh. COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without income options, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine in the region. On 20 May 2020, Super Cyclone Amphan hit the region causing over 100 fatalities, damages in excess of 13 billion dollars and displacing 4.9 million people. Many people who were concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy avoided evacuating to shelters. While the pandemic made it more difficult to prepare for the cyclone, the cyclone in turn also worsened the conditions for pandemic response in its aftermath, as health centres were destroyed and COVID-19 cases spiked.


“When we recognize common root causes and emerging risks resulting from disasters like these and become aware of the interconnectivity between

them, we will understand them better. This will also enable us to take collective actions at the global level that will change the larger, systemic processes behind them and ideally prevent similar events from occurring in the future,” the report pointed out.


O’Connor says that the problems are interlinked and so are the solutions. The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems



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