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Climate Disasters Now Happening Weekly, UN Official Warns

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A woman in Macomia, northern Mozambique assesses the damage after a baobab tree slammed into her home during Cyclone Kenneth on April 28. EMIDIO JOZINE / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A "staggering" new warning from a top United Nations official that climate crisis-related disasters are now occurring at the rate of one per week, with developing nations disproportionately at risk, provoked calls for immediate global action to combat the human-caused climate emergency.



The warning came in an interview with The Guardian, which reported Sunday:

Catastrophes such as cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique and the drought afflicting India make headlines around the world. But large numbers of "lower impact events" that are causing death, displacement, and suffering are occurring much faster than predicted, said Mami Mizutori, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on disaster risk reduction. "This is not about the future, this is about today."
This means that adapting to the climate crisis could no longer be seen as a long-term problem, but one that needed investment now, she said. "People need to talk more about adaptation and resilience."

"We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this [issue of adapting to the effects] we will not survive," Mizutori added. "We need to look at the risks of not investing in resilience."

The estimated annual cost of climate-related disasters is $520 billion, the newspaper noted, "while the additional cost of building infrastructure that is resistant to the effects of global heating is only about 3 percent, or $2.7 trillion in total over the next 20 years."

"This is not a lot of money [in the context of infrastructure spending], but investors have not been doing enough," said Mizutori. "Resilience needs to become a commodity that people will pay for."

Mizutori said that improving the systems that warn the public of severe weather and expanding awareness of which places and people are most vulnerable could help prevent lower impact disasters. She noted that while urgent work is needed to prepare the developing world, richer countries are also experiencing the consequences of global heating — including devastating wildfires and dangerous heatwaves.

The adaption measures Mizutori called for include raising — and enforcing — infrastructure standards to make houses and businesses, roads and railways, and energy and water systems more capable of withstanding the impacts of the warming world, which scientists warn will increasing mean more frequent and intense extreme weather events. She also highlighted the potential of "nature-based solutions."

Peter Strachan — a professor and expert on energy policy, environmental management and energy transitions at the UK's Robert Gordon University — called the report "staggering" and alerted several environmental and climate advocacy groups on Twitter.

Sharing The Guardian's article on Twitter, the U.S.-based youth-led Sunrise Movement declared: "This is an emergency. We need political leadership that acts like it."

"This is why it's so offensive to talk about climate impacting 'our children/grandchildren,'" tweeted War on Want executive director Asad Rehman, referencing a common talking point among U.S., European and UN leaders. "Do people of global South facing disaster every week not deserve the right to life? The answer from rich countries and those who call for net zero by 2050 is a big No."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.