Source: United Nation University

Date: September 8, 2021

Bonn, Germany 8 September – A new report, Interconnected Disaster Risks 2020/2021, was released today by United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). The report analyses 10 different disasters from 2020/2021 and finds that even though they occurred in vastly different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are interconnected with each other.

As shown by the key findings of the recent IPCC 6th Assessment Report, extreme events, such as droughts, fires and floods, are increasingly compounding each other, likely as a consequence of human influence. Viewed through a lens of interconnectivity, this new report shows in detail how not only climate disasters, but human-made disasters in general build on the impacts of the past and pave the way for future disasters.

The frequency of severe weather events, epidemics and human-made disasters is increasing globally, and it is becoming ever more challenging to keep pace with the corresponding changes and impacts. In 2020/2021, the world witnessed a number of record-breaking disasters: the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, a cold wave crippled the state of Texas, wildfires destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and Viet Nam experienced 9 heavy storms in the span of only 7 weeks. By analysing past events through the lens of interconnectivity, both the disasters that are happening right now and those that will happen in the future can be better understood.

"When people see disasters in the news, they often seem far away," said UNU-EHS Senior Scientist Dr. Zita Sebesvari, a lead author of the report. "But even disasters that occur thousands of kilometres apart are often related to one another and can have consequences for people living in distant places."

But disasters are not only connected to each other; they are also connected to us as individuals. The record rate of deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon is in part due to the high global demand for meat: farmland is needed to grow soy, which is used as animal fodder for poultry. This means that some of the root causes of disasters are in fact influenced by the actions of people far away from where the event itself occurs.

"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 behavior. Our actions have consequences, for all of us," said fellow lead author Dr. Jack O'Connor. "But the good news is that if the problems are connected, so are the solutions."

The report showcases solutions at both the societal and individual level and explains how one action, such as cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, can affect many different types of disasters: it can prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

The ten disasters covered in the report are:

  1. Amazon wildfires – Wildfires fueled by global appetite
  2. Arctic heatwave – Spiraling into a climate disaster
  3. Beirut explosion – When the global community abandons a 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?