Extreme weather events amid the coronavirus pandemic have harmed millions of people worldwide and hampered recovery of vulnerable communities

Widespread monsoon flooding in India and Bangladesh displaced several million people (Photo by Alamy)

Widespread monsoon flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh displaced several million people (Photo by Alamy)

The Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather events have simultaneously impacted millions of people worldwide, the Red Cross said in a new report this week.

Out of the 132 identified unique extreme weather events that have occurred so far in 2020, as many as 92 have overlapped with the Covid-19 pandemic, said the Climate-related extreme weather events and COVID-19 report.

The analysis quantified the overlapping vulnerability of communities from the pandemic and climate disasters that hampered their recovery.

At least 51.6 million people globally were affected by floods, droughts or storms and Covid-19, the Red Cross said in the report.

A further 2.3 million people were affected by major wildfires and an estimated 437.1 million people in vulnerable groups were exposed to extreme heat, all while contending with the direct health impacts of coronavirus or measures implemented to curb its spread, the international emergency relief organisation said.

“The climate crisis has not stopped for Covid-19, and millions of people have suffered from the two crises colliding,” said Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “We have had absolutely no choice but to address both crises simultaneously.”

“Covid-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities like never before and, as our preliminary analysis shows, compounded suffering for millions of people affected by climate-related disasters,” Julie Arrighi, climate advisor with the Red Cross, said in a statement.

Impact in South Asia

Almost 40 million people across India and Bangladesh were affected by both the pandemic and floods or storms, the report showed, adding that the number is likely to be an underestimate due to limited and incomplete reporting.

Cyclone Amphan, the strongest tropical storm for over a decade in South Asia, affected 15 million people in May, killing 129.

Monsoon flooding in India from June to September was the largest singular disaster, the report showed. The nationwide event has affected 17 million people and killed over 1,000. Associated disasters, particularly landslides and mudslides, contributed to the significant size of the overall disaster.

Severe flooding as a result of monsoon rains occurred in Bangladesh, affecting five million people till September 2020. An estimated 24% to 37% of the country was submerged due to flooding, the report showed.

Heatwaves are underreported in disaster databases but are among the deadliest and rapidly rising climate-related extremes, with significant overlapping risks with Covid-19, the Red Cross said.

“Our rough estimates indicate that 431.7 million people in vulnerable populations across the world have been exposed to extreme heat during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Since these estimates are based on preliminary data from currently available sources, the number of people affected and killed by climate-related disasters are almost certainly a significant underestimate, the report noted.

Stretched relief operations

The pandemic is placing strain on emergency relief systems. Evacuations for storms were more difficult during a lockdown, requiring people to be spread over a larger number of shelters and ensure provision of protection to avoid unintentionally aggravating the pandemic by protecting people from a natural hazard.

Relief agencies are facing a double threat of responding to Covid-19 outbreaks and a simultaneous reduction in frontline workforce and resources that can be quickly mobilised.

Global supply chains experienced severe disruption, slowing the supply of relief aid and recovery equipment, the report said.

By 2050, 200 million people a year could need international humanitarian aid as the result of a combination of climate-related disasters and the socioeconomic impact of climate change, the Red Cross had said in a 2019 report — The Cost of Doing Nothing.

This is nearly twice the estimated 108 million people who need help from international humanitarian system because of floods, storms, drought and wildfires. By 2030, the international humanitarian aid required could balloon to USD 20 billion a year.

“We cannot prevent storms, cyclones, heatwaves and other climate or weather-related hazards from happening. But we can do something about the impacts they have,” Rocca said.

“It is crucial to invest in climate adaptation and to build resilience in the communities, countries and regions at risk. We have a rare opportunity to make a real difference to the climate crisis as we seek to recover from the health and economic impacts of Covid-19.”

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