In April 2022, torrential rains led to floods, landslides, and the death of 435 people in KwaZulu-Natal. The damage to infrastructure amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. Survivors had no potable water for nearly fourteen days. Repairs are still ongoing. But the rains resumed this month. Citizens have fled their homes. Floods have damaged roads, bridges, and buildings in the port city of Durban, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the international response to complex emergencies and natural disasters. The OCHA 2020 report states that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) remains one of the regions most exposed to climate phenomenon. Moreover, its societies and ecosystems are principally vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change including drought, intense rains, cyclones, and the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon.
Tsunamis triggered by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions have not been a feature of disasters in the LAC region over the last decade. However, the physical exposure to tsunamis is real, as the region’s vulnerability to earthquakes is high. Many low-lying coastal areas in LAC states, especially in the West Indies – where more than seventy per cent of the population reside in coastal communities – may be affected. Contemporary seismological investigations have unmasked large zones along the coast of Ecuador, Peru, and northern Chile, which could produce large-magnitude earthquakes. In Chile, regular evacuation simulations and warning systems serve to create a culture of earthquake preparedness.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was catastrophic and the disaster was exacerbated by the extreme vulnerability of the population. In the aftermath of Nepal’s 2015 earthquake, seven million users checked in on Facebook’s “Safety Check”. When disasters like earthquakes, or the partial collapse of a building as occurred in Surfside, Florida, crisis reporting agencies alert Facebook. Once Facebook’s “Safety Check” is activated, people mark themselves safe and are able to see if any of their relatives in the affected area marked themselves as – “safe”. Such data points assist first responders using data analytics to make effective decisions using Crowdsourced Disaster Maps. The aggregated data helps search and rescue to determine where residents move to after a disaster. The data – combined with other datasets build out networks for relief supply distribution.
Digital technologies hold the greatest potential to increase the timeliness, reach, and impact of disaster preparedness and response efforts. Drones can identify survivors through infrared cameras and advanced listening systems. Blockchain reduces the risks of distributing donations and eliminates the risk of losses caused by card theft. Blockchain also reduces administrative costs by removing intermediaries. Blockchain also offers the accountability and transparency of digital transactions. After the 2015 Nepal earthquake, World Vision International piloted Sikka, a digital asset transfer platform, to distribute digital credits through SMS to recipients that were exchanged for cash or goods at participating locations.
In LAC, one hundred and fifty-two million citizens were affected by 1,205 disasters during the period 2000 – 2019, according to OCHA. On twelve occasions since 2000, floods have caused more than US$1 billion dollars in destruction. Brazil ranks among the top fifteen countries in the world with the greatest population exposed to river flood risk. Countries in LAC are exposed to an average of seventeen hurricanes annually. LAC countries experienced twenty-three Category 5 hurricanes from 2000 – 2019. The 2017 hurricane season remains the third-worst on record in terms of the number of disasters and countries affected, as well as the magnitude of damage.
Dorian was a Category 5 hurricane. At its peak strength, Dorian brought winds in excess of 220mph and a 23ft. storm surge that barrelled over north-western Bahamas. Along its path, Dorian slowed to a crawl over Grand Bahama, with a population of 51,000 residents. The hurricane remained stationary for about 36 hours. Thousands of homes were flattened, power lines downed and roads and water wells damaged. Residents were desperate for water, electricity, sanitation, and shelter. Dorian destroyed two Central Abaco settlements of mostly undocumented migrants. A total of 67 deaths were reported across affected islands in the Bahamas.
Since 2000, there have been 20 magnitude-7.0 or greater earthquakes in the region. The 2010 Haiti earthquake ranks among the top ten deadliest earthquakes in human history. Between 2000 and 2019, LAC experienced 75 earthquakes, resulting in 226,000 deaths and 339,000 injured. These earthquakes affected 14 million people and caused approximately US$54 billion in damages. Crop yield reductions of 50-75 per cent in central and eastern Guatemala, southern Honduras, eastern El Salvador, and parts of Nicaragua are the result of droughts. Along this “Dry Corridor” 8 out of 10 households that are affected by drought have resorted to crisis coping mechanisms.
In 2015, Tropical Storm Erika had a path north of Dominica. It was a weak tropical storm with sustained winds of just 50mph. It lacked intensity. However, 12.62 inches of rainfall triggered flash floods and landslides, leaving twenty persons dead and affecting approximately forty per cent of the total population. The damages caused by Erika amounted to US$483 million, or 90 per cent of GDP. Crowdsourced Disaster Maps, data analytics, drones, Open Data, Sovereign Identities, and blockchain are a new disaster preparedness frontier.