The report, Interconnected Disaster Risks 2020/2021, was released by United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in September 2021.
It analyses ten 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.
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 five million acres of Amazon rainforest, and Viet Nam experienced nine heavy storms in the span of only seven 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.
Disasters that occur thousands of kilometres apart are often related to one another and can have consequences for people living in distant places. They also often occur simultaneously and compound each other.
Oftentimes, disasters stem from the same root causes, which means that they are interconnected by the same underlying factors that create the conditions for these seemingly unrelated events to occur. The report Interconnected Disaster Risks identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.
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.
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?