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Natural disasters can strike us in many forms including earth’s seismic activities or catastrophic weather events. With every passing year the worldwide data shows that both the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters are in the rise. Since these disasters occur often unexpectedly or with minimal warning, those who are not prepared and don’t respond swiftly, suffer immense damages and loss.
A recent report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) stated that around 1.35 million people were killed by natural hazards over the past 20 years, not to mention the sufferings they brought to millions of others who survived or were left behind. It is also important to note that majority of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries and that over half of them died in earthquakes, while the rest lost their lives to weather and/or climate related disasters.
In broad categorization, natural disasters could be divided into four major sections based on their origin namely, geological disasters, mountain area disasters, wind or water related disasters and climate related disasters.
Earthquake and volcano are the result of violent seismic activities below the surface of the earth, hence called geological disasters. Research shows that there is an intimate relation between the movement of the Earth’s crust, the occurrence of earthquake and the formation of the great Himalayan range in this part of the world. Even today, the Indian plate is squeezing underneath the Tibetan plate at the rate of about 25 millimeters per year. The consequence is evident in the form of major earthquake impacts, such as the recent 2015 Gorkha Earthquake-Nepal, around the Northern Indian-Subcontinent region for centuries.
Volcano could be described as outpouring of magma from the core of the Earth. Japan, Italy, Indonesia and Iceland are frequently affected by this disaster.
Mountain Area Disasters
Although occurring above the Earth’s surface, mountain area disasters such as landslides and avalanches are yet another type of disasters which can make life vulnerable in the mountains and Himalayan regions. The basic disaster mechanism is similar in landslide and avalanche as both occur in slopes and could be the result of heavy rain, soil erosion, earthquake, storm or volcanic eruptions. Most often, landslides involve soil, rock and mud while avalanches involve snow and ice.
The 2014 avalanche, caused by the effect of Hudhud Cyclone, in the high-mountains of Himalaya is still fresh in Nepalese memory. Unlike avalanches which are mostly observed in high mountain ranges, landslides occur in smaller hilly slopes.
Wind or Water Related Disasters
Tsunami, Cyclone, Flood and Drought are some of the major wind and water related disasters frequently occurring in Indian-Subcontinent region. Due to undersea earthquake or volcanic eruption, Tsunami brings high sea waves and massive destruction to the coastal regions and beyond. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was the result of an earthquake which occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
Cyclones cause massive sea-water flooding especially along the coastal region due to heavy wind, storm and extensive rainfall. They are also known as typhoon in Japan and as Hurricane in the USA. On the other hand floods occur due to heavy rainfalls, river blockage, dam failure, snow melting, etc. and can be divided as flash floods, river floods and coastal floods. While floods are inundation or accumulation of water, droughts are shortage of the same which may last for months or years.
Climate Related Disasters
Heat wave, cold wave, global warming, sea-level rise and ozone depletion are some of the examples of the climate related disasters. Heat waves and cold waves are the result of extreme surface air temperatures over an extended region for several days or weeks. Every year hundreds of fatalities are recorded in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal due to this calamity.
Due to the rise of greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, the Earth is warming up causing or influencing other chain of disasters globally, hence the term Global Warming. Directly or indirectly, Global Warming is also responsible for sea-level rise and ozone depletion which are lately spreading a sense of havoc around the globe. Indian Subcontinent countries such as Bangladesh and Mauritius are highly vulnerable to the impacts of Sea-level rise.
Observing the high death tolls of last 20 years, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction makes it one of the highest priorities to save lives around the world, especially in underdeveloped and developing countries. Since the countries which contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions are the ones suffering greatest threat of climate change, it makes more sense to focus on mitigating the impacts of climate change in these underprivileged countries.
The disaster risks and vulnerabilities in low and middle-income countries need to be addressed through improved policies and better preparedness initiatives. Building resilient infrastructures and societies should undisputedly be embedded into the comprehensive development plans at local, national as well as regional levels.
Although, the 21st International Conference of Parties (COP 21), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), in December 2015 seemed to have taken promising steps in this direction, somehow it felt too little too late. We may not realize this in our everyday hustle, but we are seriously running out of time and plentiful needs to be done.
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