While news headlines have focused on the atmospheric rivers that flooded parts of California this winter, few have noticed that the North American monsoon region has become unusually dry.
Each year, the North American monsoon brings crucial rainfall to western Mexico and the southwestern United States. The monsoon has a significant impact on the lives of the 12 million people living within its reach, as it accounts for a large portion of the annual rainfall necessary to sustain life and support agriculture in the region. Specifically, the North American monsoon brings 60-80% of the northwestern Mexico’s annual precipitation, and 35-45% of the annual precipitation of Arizona and New Mexico.
The North American monsoon begins in southern Mexico around June of each year. Heavy rainfall then expands north through the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. When the monsoon arrives, weather conditions change from hot and arid to cool and wet. This can occur as early as June in Mexico or July in Arizona or New Mexico. As the monsoon progresses, rainfall tends to intensify and dangerous effects of hydrological extremes become more likely. The most severe rainfall usually occurs in the Gulf of California or Sierra Madre Occidental maintain range, where average monthly rainfall is 12 inches. Here, heavy rains transform “near desert conditions to those typical of a tropical rain forest within several weeks,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. When the monsoon season has concluded, parts of Mexico and the western United States experience a mid-summer drought of varying length and severity.
Although the heaviest rains are usually concentrated in these two areas, monsoon storms are dispersed throughout the region and their severity often depends on a number of influencing factors changing from year to year. These include the position of waves in the midlatitude jet stream and ocean surface temperatures — both influence rainfall patterns and severity. The nature and magnitude of each year’s monsoon significantly affects agriculture and farming, the health of ecosystems, and the likelihood of wildfires in the western North American region.
So far this year, the Western U.S. has seen above-average rainfall, and all of North America outside of the Pacific Northwest has seen anomalously high temperatures. In Phoenix, Arizona, for example, rain levels and temperatures exceeded monthly averages by 0.32 inches and 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. But while California has been receiving significant media attention for its torrential rainfall and floods, droughts in western Mexico have been developing.
Western Mexico is currently experiencing a rainfall deficit. Although experiencing heavier than usual rains this past summer, the region has been unusually dry through the winter months. The North American Drought Monitor has classified this region as “Abnormally Dry”, the result of a 40 millimeter rainfall deficit. While this deficit does not yet constitute a widespread drought, severe drought has started to occur in isolated regions such as the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca’s Isthmus region is currently facing its worst drought in five decades. Drought conditions have resulted in low agricultural yields, economic woes, and severe water shortages throughout the region. The Isthmus accounts for over half of the state’s cattle production, and already, the drought has led to the deaths of over 1,500 cattle due to starvation or diseases caused by malnourishment. Water levels are also exceptionally low, with the region’s largest reservoir at only 16% capacity. The reservoir deficit has led to concerns among the 800 local fishermen working in the area who are concerned about the drought’s effect on their incomes and families. The country’s National Water Commission has responded to the low water levels by declaring a state of emergency in 27 of the state’s 42 municipalities.
Heavy rains have drenched central South America over the past month, causing dangerous flooding in Bolivia and Peru. As a result, lives have been lost, houses have been destroyed, and crops have been threatened in both countries. The states’ governments have been forced to deploy emergency assistance to bring aid to those threatened by the extreme weather.
In Bolivia, severe downpours have surprised unprepared towns and villages. In January, the Bolivian town of La Paz received 37 mm of rainfall in two days. This accounts for 25% of the city’s average annual rainfall, at 137 mm. Last month near Villa Pagador, just 10 minutes of heavy rain caused rivers to overflow, resulting in flash flooding. The country also faced flooding following violent thunderstorms in December, which resulted in the deaths of eight Bolivians.
These floods follow a period of severe drought. In fact, in 2016 Bolivia faced the country’s worst drought in 25 years. Water shortages in the country’s highlands led to both political and economic disputes, as residents fought for access to clean, safe water. The drought grew so extreme in November, particularly in La Paz, that a state of emergency was declared. Today, post-drought flooding makes the country vulnerable to mudslides and landslides.
Peru is also experiencing the devastating effects of extreme weather including flooding, landslides, and mudslides. Since the 30th of January, over 90,000 Peruvians have been affected by flooding in the country’s Piura region. On the evening of January 30th, heavy rains in Piura lasted for 30 hours straight. As a result, two people died and over 2,000 others were affected. By February 7th, flooding had displaced over 2,500 residents in the region.
In the nearby region of Lambayeque, nearly 60,000 have been affected by flooding and more than 1,800 homes have been destroyed. The region’s La Leche river has overflowed, threatening residential areas, agriculture, and business in the area. Heavy rains have traveled throughout the country, killing five Peruvians in the southern state of Arequipa. The most affected areas include Arequipa, Huancavelica, Ica, Lima, Moquegua, Piura, Puno, Tumbes, and Ucayali.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has responded by pledging to provide emergency services, fuel, and water pumps to Lambeyeque and other affected cities. Additionally, the Peruvian government has declared a 60-day state of emergency in Tumbes, Piura, and Lambayeque.
Extreme weather in Peru has also affected agriculture and farming. In the village of Ayacucho, over 180,000 alpacas have died from starvation, the result of a cold weather front accompanying rains in the region. Low temperatures had caused the fields where the animals graze to freeze over. Families in Ayacucho, who depend on alpaca farming for survival, are fearful of the additional threats future storms may bring. Additionally, floods have destroyed 12,000 hectares of agriculture in the country. These include crops of alfalfa, beans, oats, potato, and quinoa.
South America saw the impact of severe flooding in 2016, as well. In October, heavy thunderstorms led to a massive landslide in the valley of Volcan, Argentina. Homes were destroyed and over 1,000 were evacuated from the area. The landslide interfered with the “Dakar Rally”, a race traveling through Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.
As of August of this year, severe flooding after prolonged drought has affected more than 200,000 people in West Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan. These countries have faced heavy flooding since early June, mainly affecting the Sudanese states of Al Gezira, Kassala, and South Darfur. At least 98 people have lost their lives in the flooding this season, with numbers expected to rise as the crisis continues.
This flooding has occurred in the midst of violent conflict and humanitarian crises in Sudan and South Sudan. In South Sudan alone, nearly 2.5 million people have been forced by the conflict to flee their homes. Today, nearly 4.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the South Sudanese conflict. While the vast majority of need for humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan is a result of conflict, severe hunger and malnutrition, health crises, and poor infrastructure are also sources of need. Flooding has only further complicated efforts to deliver this aid. Humanitarian agencies and providers of aid are now struggling more than ever to deliver aid to the countries’ most needy.
This flooding occurs immediately after a multi-year period during which Ethiopia faced its worst drought in five decades. Drought conditions have devastated agriculture in the region and raised food prices, contributing to food insecurity for more than 10.2 million Ethiopians. South Sudan faces a comparable food crisis with a quarter of its population, or 2.8 million, in need of food aid this year. Droughts and rising temperatures have hurt harvests of rice, sorghum, soybean, and wheat in the area. As 40% of the East Africa region’s gross domestic product depends on agriculture, these crop shortages can also take a serious toll on the economic health of the region.
Although rains in some areas alleviate the threat of the region’s lasting drought, flooding also poses a serious risk for agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, heavy rains and flooding threaten crops in Sudan and South Sudan by waterlogging fields and destroying crops in the region. The flooding of the Gash River on the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia, for example, has flooded entire farming villages, destroying crops and homes. Ethiopia’s Blue Nile is also a flooding danger, according to UN aid agencies.
This year’s flooding has also led to a serious cholera outbreak in South Sudan. South Sudan’s Minister of Health confirmed the outbreak in July, announcing that the country’s National Public Health Laboratory had found Vibrio Cholerae Inaba (Cholera) in several sewage samples taken earlier that month. By July 26th, 391 cholera cases had been reported in the country, with 17 resulting in deaths. UNICEF’s Cholera Task Force is now in full operation in the country working to improve sanitation, health service access, and water quality in the country.
In the state’s capital, Juba, escalated violence has led to a breakdown in service provision, making cholera containment even more difficult. So far, cholera deaths have occurred in the states of Eastern Lakes, Imatong, Jonglei, Juba, and Terekeka. International non-governmental organizations including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and others are now working to build up health capacities in these and other states to quell the rise of cholera and other infectious diseases made more dangerous by flooding and its effects.
By Harland Dahl, from New Delhi
With over a third of India’s states experiencing severe water crises and many others facing a blistering heat wave, India’s monsoon season couldn’t have come soon enough. The southwest monsoon supplies India with 75% of its water for the year. This year, drought conditions have been severe enough to require some Indian cities to stockpile food and water from other regions. In Maharashtra’s Latur, for example, water trains have been used to bring drinking water to thirsty populations from over 300 kilometers away.
The strength and timing of monsoon season can have an effect on India’s economy, as well. As agriculture is the main source of income for roughly half of India’s population, a strong monsoon season can mean lower prices for food and crops, reduced inflation, and provide economic stability for India’s farmers and farming communities.
Although droughts have become increasingly frequent in India over the past few decades and parts of India currently face water crises, this year’s monsoon may be heavier than usual. Earlier this year, the India Meteorological Department predicted that, on a national level, the summer’s monsoon would bring above-average rainfall. Although the monsoon’s late arrival in mid-June temporarily exacerbated water shortages in parts of the country, it’s above-average performance has been a relief to many. So far, this season’s total rainfall has been 1% higher than average. Monsoon rains were 35% above average in the first week of July, and in the northwest of the country, rainfall went up to 57% above normal rates.
Monsoon flooding has primarily affected northern, central, and western India. Rains have been particularly heavy in the states of Madhya Pradesh, where 15 people were killed as a result of heavy rains, and Uttarakhand, where upwards of 40 people died after flash floods and the landslides they caused. In the northeastern state of Assam, flash floods have displaced families and prevented movement between villages. In the state’s Jorhat district, for example, almost 20 villages have been cut off by flooding.
While some areas have been receiving above average rainfall, others still face a rainfall deficit. Uneven monsoon coverage has resulted in a 17% rainfall deficit in the country’s eastern region, and certain states have even higher deficits. The Kutch region, for example, has a rainfall deficit of 84%. The state of Gujarat has taken steps to make up for a deficit of 58% by distributing supplies of drinking water and cattle fodder to its driest areas.
The World Resources Institute estimates that half of India’s 1.3 billion people experience severe water stress. After two years of weak monsoons and dry, hot summers, many areas face droughts. Water shortages have created “water refugees”, forcing some families to relocate in search of safe drinking water and others to travel as many as 9 kilometers to reach water supplies. Even in some areas facing only mild shortages, like rural Uttar Pradesh, it is common for drinking water to be contaminated by pollution from factories or human waste. It is estimated 130 million Indians live in areas where groundwater is contaminated by at least one dangerous pollutant such as arsenic or nitrate. In areas like these, dry seasons and water shortages mean that many have no option but to drink contaminated water. Residents here look forward to a the year of above-average rainfall predicted by the India Meteorological Department.
India’s water supply has been steadily declining over the past few years, and Prashant Goswami, Director of the CSIR National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies in New Delhi, estimates that Delhi could exhaust its water supplies in less than 1,000 years. Despite low supplies, India continues to lose water through its agricultural exports each year. India accounts for 2.5% of global agricultural exports, and is estimated to have exported 25 cubic kilometers of water embedded in exports in 2010, alone. This estimate doesn’t include the water used to grow grains and rice, and is enough to supply water for almost 13 million people.
Water shortages, dry weather patterns in some areas, and heavy flooding in others, make accurate weather prediction tools important for preparation for future extreme weather in India.
Statistical models have been used by India to predict monsoon rains since the 1920s, when India was under British colonial rule. Although these statistical models have been reinvented multiple times since then, some experts have questioned the accuracy of these models, which use temperatures, wind patterns, El Niño and La Niña, and Ganges flows to predict weather patterns. This year, the India Meteorological Department is investing $60 million into an improved forecasting system, which will be based on U.S. dynamical weather prediction models. The new system, which could increase the accuracy of the IMD’s predictions by 15%, should be introduced by 2017.
By Harland Dahl
Over 19 million people from 100 countries were forced to relocate in 2014 due to the effects of natural disasters including drought, soil degradation, typhoons, cyclones, and other extreme weather events, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre 2015 Report. The International Organization for Migration has estimated that by 2050, there will be as many as 200 million climate migrants globally.
In Asia, alone, it is estimated that over ten million people were displaced by climate-related extreme weather events in 2011. These numbers include groups like the 200,000 Bangladeshis who are displaced by river erosion each year, or residents of small islands such as Kiribati and Nauru who are threatened by changing environmental conditions and rising sea levels.
In global terms, Asia and the Pacific is the region most affected by extreme weather both in terms of people affected and number of natural disasters occurring in the region. Research from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) cites climate variability as a main driver of migration patterns and displacement within South Asia. Globally, 80% of countries with the largest populations living in low-elevation coastal zones are located in Asia and the Pacific. The Bank estimates that one third of the population in South Asia lives in areas at risk for climate-change-induced sea level rise.
Asia and the Pacific is home to roughly 4 billion people, or nearly 60% of the world’s population. In recent decades, Southeast Asian countries including China, Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong have experienced periods of rapid economic development. Even so, many Asian countries still face high levels of poverty; about 1.8 billion people in the region live on 2USD or less per day. A resulting lack of infrastructure and resources makes countries of the region highly vulnerable to shocks caused by natural disasters and extreme weather.
Increasing global trends of population growth, urbanization, and settlement in and migration to coastal areas put more and more at risk of cyclones and other extreme weather events. As underdeveloped countries face these challenges, their progress towards economic development and sustainable growth is threatened. According to head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Francis Ghesquiere, “Large-scale natural disasters, particularly in fragile and developing countries can set back years of development achievements,” making weather patterns a key concern for development initiatives today.
World bank reports estimate that the number of people directly affected by tropical cyclones, specifically, has tripled in the last 30 years. In this time period, cyclones have killed over 400,000 and affected another 466 million people, with their effects falling disproportionately on underdeveloped areas of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.
As global population continues to grow and an increasing number of the world’s poorest are affected by climate variability and hydrological extremes, attention to extreme weather and those it affects is increasingly important.
By Harland Dahl
Today, East African countries face a major famine following the worst drought in half a century. Rainfall shifts caused by El Niño warming of ocean waters across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific are thought to have contributed to this drought.
The East African drought has devastated agricultural production in the region, hurting harvests of essential grains and vegetables and killing livestock herds. According to the international non-governmental organization Save the Children, 10.1 million people are currently “in urgent need of food aid” in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Somaliland today. In Ethiopia alone, 5.7 million children are at risk of hunger.
Famine and hunger caused by the drought have been complicated by conflict in the region, and in particular in South Sudan, where violence has made it difficult for non-governmental organizations and foreign aid agencies to deliver necessary assistance. Here, nearly 40,000 people are facing a “phase five” hunger emergency.
According to the Joint Government and Humanitarian Partners’ Document, a joint report crafted by the Ethiopian government and humanitarian agencies working in the country, roughly $1.4 billion in funding will be necessary to address the crisis in Ethiopia, alone. In January, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) pledged $97 million in emergency assistance to this cause.
United Nations agencies working in the country are also feeling the strain of insufficient funding. The World Food Program has estimated itself to have just five percent of the funds necessary to support a full program in the country. These programs are crucial to the survival of many Ethiopians, 80% of which rely on agriculture to survive. In fact, the Ethiopia Humanitarian Requirement Document estimates that current food stocks will be exhausted by the end of April this year.
Drought conditions have been exacerbated by climate change and El Niño weather patterns in the past year. According to a study conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, temperatures in most areas of Africa have risen by nearly one degree Fahrenheit in the past fifty to one hundred years.
Temperatures are projected to continue to rise throughout this century, further disrupting weather patterns and bringing heavy rains and lasting droughts to different regions of the world. Research coming from the University of California at Santa Barbara suggests that these raised temperatures could be responsible for an 11% reduction in East Africa’s 2014 April-June rainfall.
The IPCC has warned that this increase in temperature could lead to a 20% loss in cereal yields in Sub-Saharan Africa by mid-21st century. This loss could have a significant economic impact across Africa; according to World Bank estimates, 70% of the continent’s population is employed by rain-fed agriculture.
By Harland Dahl
According to data collected from annual reports on rainfall in southeast Africa, mean summer rainfall has been steadily declining in the region over the past 200 years. It is suspected that this drying trend has been significantly influenced by climate change. Indeed, most climate models predict a reduction in rainfall over southern Africa in the next century, although there is less agreement amongst models for the northern parts of the continent. Today, we see strong year-to-year variability superimposed on these trends as African countries face both severe droughts and flooding.
Many African nations faced severe droughts this past summer, including Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Strong El Niño conditions are expected to bring some relief to these countries over the next few months, as El Niño is typically associated with enhanced rain over east-central Africa. Although heavy rains are expected to be beneficial in these areas, storms also have the potential to cause dangerous flooding, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
South Africa, by contrast, is typically drier than usual during El Niño. If this region receives less rain than usual, this would compound existing dryness: the 2014/2015 season was the third-driest South Africa had seen in eighty years. In recent weeks, South Africa has faced several heat waves, some affecting the country’s maize belt. In response to water shortages, the South African government has imposed water restrictions in certain cities, and urged livestock farmers to limit their herd sizes to preserve water supplies.
According to David Nash, University of Brighton College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences professor, this year’s El Niño weather pattern could bring risks of serious droughts in southern Africa. In an interview with The Argus newspaper, Nash explained, “The timing of droughts shows a strong relationship with El Niño events, particularly during the latter half of the 19th century. Drought events were particularly severe during the rainy season immediately following an El Niño event.”
Droughts like these could be extremely threatening to food security in many areas of southern Africa, where 29 million people are food insecure and low levels of rainfall could lead to the death of livestock and reduced grain and cereal yields. In the past, weather crises like these have led to significant increases in staple food prices across African countries. In 2011, for example, staple prices were 68% higher than the region’s five-year average as a result of drought conditions. According to the United Nations, the countries most affected by staple price inflation often include Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Southern Africa is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. According to recent climate models and research, it is possible that temperatures in southern Africa will increase one and a half times more quickly than the global average temperature increase in coming years.
In response to these threats, the World Bank has invested $US16 billion in a plan to help African countries prepare for and respond to climate change and its effects. This plan aims to help African countries “highly vulnerable to climate shocks” prepare for changes in weather patterns that could affect anything from health to infrastructure to crop production. It also includes efforts to boost clean energy production and increase access to electricity.
For the past three and a half months, Arizonans have faced substantial rains as a result of a heavy monsoon season. Arizona’s monsoon season usually lasts from June to September, bringing with it dust storms, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. The monsoon is influenced by winds originating in Mexico, pushing moisture Southwest though Arizona.
A strengthening El Niño in the Pacific Ocean may have contributed to the occurrence of tropical storms and hurricanes in this year’s monsoon. Some rains were particularly heavy, and the strong but sporadic monsoon was made up of both large rainstorms and smaller microbursts. While certain areas in northern Arizona remained dry, Phoenix and its surrounding areas received between 3.5 and 5.5 inches of rainfall.
The rains began earlier than usual, with the emergence of Hurricane Blanca in June. By the end of June, rain levels were above average in much of Arizona. July saw a slight drop in precipitation, but the monsoon quickly recovered. Since then, several other storms have poured down on Arizona, including Hurricane Linda in September. The monsoon was the 35th wettest since 1896, and came to an end on Wednesday, September 30th.
According to the National Weather Service, some areas of Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tucson received more than double the average monsoon season rainfall. These rains have helped to ease Arizona’s drought; today, nearly 57% of the state is no longer facing drought conditions. This is the highest percentage in five years.
Temperatures during this year’s monsoon were also warmer than usual. Throughout the monsoon season, Phoenix cooled to only 86 degrees. Temperatures in the southern parts of Arizona stayed high, as well. Daily lows in Yuma, for example, averaged the new high record of roughly 83 degrees. Last month was one of the warmest Septembers on record in Arizona.
Forceful monsoon storms threatened Arizonans and destroyed property throughout the state. Strong winds and hurricanes uprooted trees, blew off roofs, and tore down fences, forcing many families out of their homes. Weather conditions necessitated school and road closures in other parts of the state.
Monsoon rains have also caused dangerous and fatal flooding. A mid-September flash flood and resulting mudslide killed 16 people on the Utah-Arizona border. In Mesa, Arizona 200 homes were flooded by monsoon rains before responders were able to open a floodgate. Dozens of cars across Arizona have been trapped in flash flooding, as well.
Many of Arizona’s cities lack the necessary infrastructure to protect citizens from monsoon rains. In response to this problem, the state government has implemented several programs to strengthen recovery efforts and fortify infrastructure. In Phoenix, for example, $7.5 million has been allocated towards emergency response programs and the building of a 36-acre storm water retention basin to contain rainfall.
According to a representative from the Phoenix office of the National Weather Service, there is a sixty to seventy percent possibility of Arizona’s winter having an above average rainfall. As warm-weather conditions caused by El Niño migrate through Arizona, snowfall may be delayed until later in the year. The National Weather Service predicts that snow many not begin until late December.
By Harland Dahl
In June, the India Meteorological Department published a seasonal forecast predicting that the southwest monsoon would bring “below normal” levels of rain to India at 90% of average rainfall. As of August 10th, monsoon rainfall was below this prediction by 6%, at 84% of average rainfall.
Today, India faces a 16% rainfall deficit. As a result, Indian communities are feeling the strains of water shortages as they enter into a second year of drought. According to recent meteorological data, the southwest monsoon could begin to withdraw from northwest India in the next three or four days. The monsoon has already withdrawn from parts of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, and now appears to be passing through Amritsar, Hisar, Ajmer, and Barmer.
This would leave one quarter of the country in a rain deficit. In fact, 91 key reservoirs across India have recorded less water reserves as compared to this period last year. Reservoirs in the South face the most serious deficiencies, with reservoirs in East and West India facing less severe deficits.
On September 10th, the 91 key reservoirs were recorded as filling only 59% of their storage capacity. An official statement released Friday by the Ministry of Water Resources explained that, “This storage is 77% of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 81% of storage of average of last 10 years.”
Indian citizens are already experiencing the impact of these rainfall deficits. In response to low reservoir water levels, the Water Resources Department has restricted the amount of water used for purposes of power generation.
Resulting power shortages have led to multiple unscheduled power cuts over the last week in the Indian state of Odisha. Power suppliers are now in the process of implementing statewide scheduled power usage regulations to conserve energy until the situation improves. Power shutoffs in urban areas are expected to be from one to two hours long, while rural areas will face more severe restrictions.
Deficient monsoon rains may also lead to low agricultural yields. The southwest monsoon’s rains irrigate almost half of India’s agricultural land, including many small family farms. Forecasts predict that this year will be the driest since 2009, leaving soil too dry to sustain winter crops.
Earlier this week, RPG Foundation President D. H. Pai Panandiker explained that the weak monsoon could cause agricultural production to fall by nearly 3% this year. Poor families living in rural areas could bear the brunt of this decrease, as many poor Indian families rely on crops from small family farms for sustenance and economic stability.
Although shortages as a whole have increased, some states have collected more water this year than the last. These include Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Tripura, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. While rains from these areas have not been sufficient to make up for the water deficit, they have caused dangerous flooding in hundreds of Indian villages.
As of September 1st, nearly 800,000 Indian citizens had been forced to leave their homes, and 21 others were killed as a result of the floods. India’s disaster management authority announced that 168 relief camps were sheltering nearly 50,000 of those displaced by the flooding.
By Harland Dahl
Twelve of Myanmar’s fourteen regions are facing severe flooding, a result of abnormally heavy monsoon rains. Flash flooding and landslides have affected more than 330,000 of Myanmar’s people and killed 88 others, according to the country’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement.
In the last few weeks, monsoon rains have swept through much of South and Southeast Asia, killing hundreds and displacing millions. In Myanmar, this monsoon has affected many of the country’s poorest who often live in low-lying regions most vulnerable to flooding.
The states hit hardest by heavy rains and flooding include Rakhine and Chin. The state of Rakhine has suffered the most casualties; Cyclone Komen killed 57 people in Rakhine last week.
Other people of Myanmar most at risk include those living in the southwest Ayeyarwady delta region, home to 12 percent of Myanmar’s population. Myanmar President Thein Sein has instructed inhabitants to seek shelter on higher land as the region’s rivers start to rise. In response to this and other warnings, many people of Myanmar have taken refuge in monasteries and makeshift shelters to protect themselves from the monsoon and the dangers it brings.
Myanmar’s flooding threatens not only homes and infrastructure, but has also destroyed crucial agricultural land and resources. This loss of resources, including 200,000 acres of destroyed farmland, could mean heightened levels of malnutrition for Myanmar’s poorest. Dom Scalpelli, director of the United Nation’s World Food Programme, explained, “Thousands of people have lost their homes, livelihoods, crops, and existing food and seed stocks. Food security will be seriously affected [by the monsoon].”
The government of Myanmar, which took power in 2011 and will face elections this November, is facing criticism from citizens for its response to the monsoon. Although the government has attempted to relocate at-risk people and rebuild communities, it has been accused of understating the magnitude of the crisis and being slow to warn citizens of impending dangers. Last week, the New Light of Myanmar, a government-owned newspaper, conceded that, “the government’s weak response to the disaster led to misunderstandings about evacuation efforts.”
On August 4th, the government of Myanmar announced that it had appealed for international assistance to provide relief for its people in the forms of temporary shelter, food, and clothing. A spokesman for the president’s office explained, “We are cooperating and inviting international assistance. We have started contacting possible donor organizations and countries. “
Myanmar is now receiving aid from various organizations and countries, including the United Nations, Save the Children, and the government of Australia. On August 7th, the United Nations authorized $9 million in aid from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to be allocated to aid organizations working in Myanmar.
These funds are intended to speed up relief efforts by helping to provide emergency shelters, safe food and water supplies, improved sanitation services, and emergency health care. As of this week, over 387 metric tons of food and 620,000 water treatment tablets have been distributed to the people of Myanmar.