DHAKA,- Bangladeshi migrants leaving the coast due to rising sea levels could trigger waves of migration across the country that will affect at least 1.3 million people by 2050, according to a new study.
A new mathematical model predicts the country’s southern regions along the Bay of Bengal will be the first impacted by sea level rise, causing displacement that would eventually affect all of the nation’s 64 districts.
Some migrants could displace existing residents, triggering further movement of people, said the study published by the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific group.
The population of Dhaka, a popular hub for migrants, is expected to shrink after an initial surge as residents seek to move away from an overburdened capital, researchers said.
With more than 600 million people at risk of being displaced by sea level rise in coastal regions worldwide in this century, researchers say their model could help countries prepare by ensuring cities are equipped to deal with an influx of migrants.
“The paper seeks to understand not only the immediate displacement due to sea level rise, but the cascading effects that their migration will trigger through the country,” co-author Maurizio Porfiri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.
“The model will initially tell you that Dhaka is the place to go, but ultimately, as the place gets overpopulated… people will have to distribute everywhere. So every place will get a fraction of the migrants.”
Bangladesh, a country of more than 160 million, is a low-lying nation often included on lists of countries most at risk from the impacts of rising global temperatures, from more extreme storms to floods.
Last year, the nation witnessed flooding that lingered for an unusually long time and experts feared the economic impact was worsened due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The study’s authors say their model can be used to assess migration trends caused by any kind of environmental disaster, from droughts and wildfires to earthquakes.
“Mathematical modelling is the only way we have to ground our future decisions,” said Pietro De Lellis, an engineer at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and the study’s lead author, in a press release.
The study’s model considers human behaviour, such as whether people are willing or able to leave home and if they later are likely to return there.
“(The study) has rightly focused on the complexity of human behaviour that is involved in the decision-making process of potential migrants,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development.
“Towns in other parts of the country, besides Dhaka, need to prepare to receive climate migrants in the future.”
SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS — Watching the waters lap at the top of the stairs leading to the second story of their convent home in the La Planeta neighborhood of La Lima, Honduras, Srs. Victoria Emérita and Milena Vanegas of the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana knew they were running out of time and options.
The protective levees surrounding the town had been breached earlier that day, Nov. 5, and a wave of water swept through town in an instant, brought to La Lima by Hurricane Eta, which made landfall the day before. Even after the initial surge from the broken levees, flooding worsened as heavy rains pelted their submerged neighborhood.
Now, with water rising as high as 12 feet, the sisters prepared to evacuate into their attic on a ladder set up next to the access door. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary: A rescue boat arrived around 6:30 that evening, and the sisters were able to pry apart two security bars on the second-floor balcony, slip through the narrow gap, and slide down the patio roof into a waiting boat.
“We could see everything had already been lost,” Emérita said, surveying the mud from the balcony of their home in La Planeta in late January. “We were worried for ourselves, yes, but when the boat came, we knew our prayers had been answered.”
The boat transported the sisters to the higher ground of the highway running through town. Because of the damage to their home, the sisters first relocated to a private home and now live in a retreat center dormitory in nearby San Pedro Sula.
However, Eta was only the first of two major storms: Hurricane Iota followed two weeks later, Nov. 18, as a Category 4 storm, soaking this low-lying town in northeastern Honduras next to the Chamelecón River and resulting in further damage to the Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School that the Sisters of Charity of Santa Ana run and to the adjacent church.
The storms affected an estimated 4.7 million people and resulted in more than 100 deaths. At least $5 billion in property damages was sustained during the storms and subsequent flooding, one-fifth of Honduras’ gross domestic product. The total economic impact from the storms is estimated at $1.86 billion, including losses of 80% of the annual sugar cane, cacao and banana harvest.
Hondurans fortunate enough to return to their homes or construct makeshift shelters still face the ever-present threat of COVID-19, made worse by limited supplies of personal protective equipment. Large groups congregate at shelters and distribution centers when much-needed food and fresh water arrive. Few wear masks.
When Eta struck Honduras, there had been more than 98,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 2,700 deaths. As of March 1, confirmed total cases had risen to more than 170,000, with more than 4,100 deaths.
The sisters have tried to set a good example throughout the pandemic and hurricane recovery by wearing masks and encouraging others to do the same, observing distancing protocols, and advocating for testing and isolation from infected people. But for the poor residents of La Planeta struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, these safety measures are often secondary to daily survival.
Providing help amid their own recovery
Months after the hurricanes, La Lima and the church property are marked by devastation. Although floodwaters receded by mid-December, the streets are still a muddy maze of makeshift paths and mud piles cleared from inundated homes. The mucking continues, shovelful by wheelbarrow. Some heavy machinery is present, with excavators and dump trucks clearing debris already removed from buildings where the deluge deposited 3 to 4 feet of mud.
At Our Lady of the Holy Fountain Nursery School, the flooding waterline is visible at nearly ceiling level, stopping at the neck of Jesus in a painting hanging over a doorway. Although the mud has been removed, the school’s rooms are piled full of salvaged equipment, such as cribs and toys. Most everything else at the school, church and convent is a total loss. The school’s kitchen and bathrooms will need to be redone, walls scrubbed and repainted, electric equipment and wiring repaired or replaced, and plumbing recertified for potable water.
The sisters continue to clean and prepare for an engineer’s evaluation on the soundness of the structures, which have several cracked walls, destroyed doors and buckled sections of flooring. They don’t yet know when their 35 students can return to the nursery school.
“At the moment, we don’t know the costs,” Emérita said. “The financing of the repairs is going to be quite difficult, and we will look for help since the nursery school by itself is not self-sustaining due to the type of population we serve.
“We are looking at the situation and asking God for his wisdom.”
Even as progress continues to restore the school, church and convent to their pre-hurricane states, the sisters are engaged in hurricane relief efforts for people affected in the area. Although displaced themselves, Emérita and Vanegas are coordinating efforts with local parishes to sort and distribute donated clothing, food and home furnishings to people who lost their homes and belongings in the storms.
Working out of two rooms piled floor-to-ceiling with donated goods at the Mhotivo Foundation in San Padro Sula, volunteers from nearby St. Peter and Paul Parish organize the items, preparing bags for Fr. Fredy Valdiviezo to pick up and distribute to local shelters housing hurricane victims. It’s a herculean effort, with thousands of items still coming through the doors each day: mattresses, bedding, cleaning supplies, food, propane tanks and more.
But the sisters know these physical provisions are only the beginning of the needs that have to be addressed in La Planeta.
El Trapiche, Honduras — Unrelenting rain from hurricanes Eta and Iota soaked and softened the mud bricks of the house where José Reyes lives with his wife, five of his eight children and a grandson in this remote village in southwestern Honduras.
“My house is made of adobe, and the wall cracked,” the farmer told EarthBeat. “The house was damaged because of the water — so much water, so much water. I couldn’t cover it.”
He hopes to repair the house but doesn’t know when that will be possible. Between the rain from two hurricanes in less than three weeks, and a series of rainy cold fronts expected to last until February, the ground is too waterlogged to make the bricks he needs to rebuild the wall destroyed by the storms.
Reyes’ crops of corn, beans and coffee were also damaged by the two tropical storms, which swept through Honduras in rapid succession between Oct. 31 and Nov. 18. Floodwaters from a stream near Reyes’ home swept away trees suitable for timber and part of his coffee field, which was on a hillside. His corn crop was ruined before he could harvest it.
“There’s no way of fixing that. Aid hasn’t arrived; it seems like it’s just on paper,” he said, adding that his village of El Trapiche needs assistance to make roads passable again.
According to civic and business groups, at least 100 people have died, damages top $10 billion and some 1 million Hondurans have lost their jobs or their source of income in the informal economy. Experts say the damage, which comes amid the economic and health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic could set the country back more than 20 years.
The areas hardest hit by the storms are Valle de Sula, which is the economic motor of Honduras, and the department of Gracias a Dios, the country’s most remote area, where crops and homes were destroyed, and people and livestock died. Honduras had not been so devastated by storms since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Government officials have not completed a damage assessment, but so far, large-, medium- and small-scale farmers in the country’s northern and western regions have lost nearly 80,000 acres of plantains, bananas, coffee, beans, rice and corn. Flooding also threatens more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane and oil palm plantations.
Drought, storms disastrous for farmers
“Honduras has always been one of the countries most vulnerable and most exposed to the effects of climate change, because of its geographic location, geography and productive structure,” Conor Walsh, Catholic Relief Services country representative in Honduras, told EarthBeat. “It doesn’t take much more study to trace a direct line between what people are experiencing and the effects of climate change.”
Before Eta and Iota, forecasters hoped that this year’s rainy season would bring enough precipitation to produce a better harvest than in the past few years, but the abnormal rains have been disastrous for agriculture in Central America, resulting in a grim outlook for the entire region, he said.
In an area of high temperatures and low rainfall known as the dry corridor, which stretches across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a multi-year drought has reduced the income and the food supply of at least 3.5 million people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Honduras’ dry corridor includes 132 of the country’s 298 municipalities, mainly in the southern, western and central regions of the country.
In this area, which has the least access to irrigation water for crops, farmers lost between 50% and 90% of the fields where they produced pineapple, corn, beans, coffee and other export crops. The problem with beans, a dietary staple, was mold caused by the extreme dampness, which destroyed the harvest for farmers like Reyes.
The most recent storm left many people without homes, an income, farmland capable of producing crops or a safe place to return to, Walsh said. Many people have already taken refuge in cities, and the hurricanes are likely to result in a huge flow of migrants seeking better living conditions in other countries, including the United States.
Because this is the first disaster of this type in the country since 1998, the Honduran government has requested temporary protection status for those who seek to migrate to the United States, in an effort to start from scratch and improve their lives and those of their families.
It is understandable that migrating is the most attractive option for those who were hardest hit by the storms, Walsh said, because so far the government has announced no plan for rebuilding what the rains swept away.
The storms worsened the already-precarious state of food security in the country, he added. “It sounds awful, but this has been the last nail in the coffin.”
As of October, it was estimated that between 550,000 and 990,000 people in Honduras would not have access to food in 2021, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. That figure is likely to increase, Walsh said, because three years of drought and two devastating tropical storms have battered Central America’s economy, which depends heavily on the export of basic food crops, sugar and fruit.
Visible effects of climate change
Both the prolonged drought and this year’s atypically severe hurricane season are among the effects of climate change, Walsh said.
The hot, dry weather early in the year fueled an increase in the number and extent of forest fires between March and May, making the fire season “one of the worst in the past decade. Undoubtedly, that contributed to the vulnerability of the soil, leaving it hardened and without plant cover that would allow rainwater to filter into it,” he said.
“Climate change means that the rain, when it comes, is more intense and comes in the form of storms and flooding,” he added. “This is what experts and scientists predicted, and now we are living it in the flesh.”
Deforestation also worsened the disaster by contributing to landslides in various parts of the country.
To some extent, rain and flooding are beneficial to ecosystems in Honduras, as they carry fresh sediments and nutrients from the mountains to the agricultural valleys, biologist Walther Monge told EarthBeat. Heavy flooding, however, washes away soil and nutrients, leaving behind mud that will not support the bananas, corn, coffee and beans that are the country’s staple crops.
Officials have reported 77 deaths from Hurricane Eta and 22 so far from Iota, although experts say the figures could increase, because it has been impossible to reach the most remote areas of the country. Floodwaters remain high, and there are daily police reports of bodies found in rivers and streams.
Storm damage to infrastructure affected at least 1 million people in 16 of the country’s 18 departments, cutting off transportation for nearly a quarter of a million people in villages and cities in northern and western Honduras. As of Nov. 30, the Comisión Permanente de Contingencias, the government’s disaster agency, had tallied 27 bridges destroyed and 25 others damaged, as well as 748 stretches of road affected and one airport closed because of flooding.
One building that suffered heavy damage in the central part of the country was the chapel of the General Cemetery in Tegucigalpa. The chapel, built in 1954, had deteriorated over time, but heavy rains from the two hurricanes soaked the building’s walls and roof and caused a side wall to collapse. Workers were trying to keep the entire chapel from crumbling.
BOGOTA,- Ruben Garcia not long ago had small herds of cattle and fields bursting with crops, and now the indigenous farmer in northern Nicaragua lies awake worrying how long it will be before he and his neighbors run out of food.
The wooden homes and tiny farms of the indigenous Miskito community stood little chance against the sustained winds of 150 mph as Hurricane Eta barreled along the Caribbean coast earlier this month.
The subsistence farmers in one of Nicaragua’s poorest areas will have little to eat in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to hit Central America in years, said Garcia, an indigenous leader.
“My community is totally devastated. We’ve lost everything,” Garcia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone near Nicaragua’s port city of Puerto Cabezas.
“I once had a house. It’s destroyed. We never imagined that we would become homeless overnight. I’ve lost my plantain and rice crops. We’re searching for cattle, the ones we find either dead or injured,” said Ruben, a father of three.
The storm hit just as the rice harvest was underway, leaving fields covered with mud and choked with fallen palm and coconut trees and branches, Garcia said. Crops in other fields were flooded.
Normally self-sufficient, “now we have to rely on food aid,” he said. “We have about 10 days left of food and then what? It’s a critical situation. It will take months for us to recover.”
Government food aid arrived within three days but has already run out in the villages that are home to about 1,000 indigenous people, Garcia said.
The priority of aid groups is getting drinking water and food to communities cut off by blocked roads and landslides, said Cairo Jarquin, an aid worker with charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
“The next phase is ensuring food security. Crops losses are severe. Almost total. Whole farming areas are affected,” said Jarquin, CRS’s emergency response project manager in Nicaragua.
Across Central America, Storm Eta’s winds and flooding have killed at least 150 people, with another 2.5 million people affected in some way, such as losing their homes, businesses and crops, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency (OCHA).
About 70,000 people are living in temporary shelters.
Hardest hit are indigenous and rural communities in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“People’s homes and livelihoods have been left in tatters,” said Moises Gonzalez, Latin America and the Caribbean representative for charity Christian Aid.
“Long-term, the impact on incomes will be significant, as many have lost the bulk of their crops and especially as the coffee harvest is due to start this month,” said Gonzalez, based in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
From rural communities to the urban poor, Central America already is suffering from the economic fallout of COVID-19, making recovery from the hurricane even harder.
“People have lost jobs, businesses are struggling,” said Felipe del Cid, Americas manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “As a result, families are experiencing a drastic reduction in their income and savings.
“The damage caused by Eta threatens to tip them further over the edge.”
In recent years, food shortages caused by extreme weather like hurricanes and prolonged droughts, exacerbated by climate change, have forced people from their homes and fueled migration in and outside of Central America, including to the United States.
“We also cannot ignore the impact this storm will have on displacement and migration in the region,” del Cid said.
“History shows us that disasters are likely to exacerbate displacement, caused by the loss of housing and the impact on unemployment,” he said.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, 3.4 million people last year faced severe food insecurity, meaning they were unable to meet their daily basic food needs, according to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).
That number could quadruple to nearly 14 million people this year due in large part to COVID-19, the WFP has said.
Rescuers look for survivors after a building collapsed in monsoon rains near the town of Solan in India [The Associated Press]
More than 100 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes across Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as rain-triggered floods and landslides left a trail of destruction in parts of South Asia.
The death toll was the highest in Nepal, where torrential rains unleashed mudslides and caused rivers to overflow, killing at least 67 people, officials said on Monday.
The annual deluge, which hit the country on Thursday, has so far displaced at least 10,000 people there.
The downpours have eased but authorities still fear the death toll could rise, according to police spokesman Bishwaraj Pokharel, who gave the latest number of dead and missing from floods and landslides.
“There are the challenges of resettlement of the displaced as many houses … have been swept away. We are also cautious about the risk of epidemics due to polluted water,” Pokharel told AFP news agency.
Building collapse in India
The June to September monsoon causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.
In the latest monsoon-related tragedy in India, a four-storey building on a hillside in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh collapsed due to heavy downpours, trapping those who had gathered for a party inside.
At least 14 people were killed, including 13 soldiers, according to a statement from the chief minister’s office.
Rescue workers used heavy machinery to remove heaps of mangled steel and wires from the muddied debris, pulling 28 survivors from the rubble.
Floods have also devastated much of the northeastern state of Assam, where at least 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes. Four people died on Sunday after being swept away by sudden torrents.
The state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO-recognised reserve and home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, has also been seriously affected by the weather.
In the eastern state of Bihar, five rivers were flowing over the danger levels with more rain forecast for the next few days. Pratata Amrit, an Indian government official, said about 200,000 people have left their flooded village homes in Bihar, with 50,000 of them taking shelter in 152 state-run relief camps.
In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said at least 18 people were killed after heavy rain triggered flash floods and damaged more than 50 houses.
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 160 million people with more than 130 rivers, is prone to monsoon floods because of overflowing rivers and the heavy onrush of water from upstream India.
At least 29 people have died in the last week, including two Rohingya refugees, 18 people who were hit by lightning in different parts of the country and seven who drowned after their boat capsized in choppy waters in the Bay of Bengal.
Another 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Bangladesh’s southern Chittagong district after the flooding of some 200 villages.
In the overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district – home to nearly one million Rohingya who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar – nearly 5,000 tarpaulin and bamboo homes were destroyed after heavy rains triggered mudslides on the hill slopes, according to a spokeswoman for the International Organisation for Migration.
Nearly 6,000 Rohingya have been left without shelter because of heavy rains.
Displaced refugees said they were suffering as rain disrupted logistics and daily activity in the camps.
“It’s tough to go to food distribution centres by wading through a swamp of mud,” Nurun Jan, a Rohingya refugee, told AFP news agency. “Rains and gusty wind have made our life miserable.”
Refugees also described a shortage of drinking water and a looming health crisis due to flooded toilets, which foster disease outbreaks.
Officials look through the wreckage of damaged buildings in Carita, Indonesia on December 23, 2018. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.
By Courtney Grogan
Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News). After a deadly tsunami struck Indonesia Saturday night, killing more than 200 people and injuring hundreds more, Pope Francis has asked for everyone to join him in prayer for the suffering victims this Christmas.
“My thoughts go out right now to the populations of Indonesia, affected by violent natural disasters, which have caused serious losses in human lives, numerous people missing and homeless, and extensive material damage,” Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer Dec. 23.
“I invite everyone to join me in prayer for the victims and their loved ones,” he said, calling for solidarity and support from the international community.
The tsunami left at least 222 people dead and more than 840 injured, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from Indonesia’s disaster management agency.
Researchers suspect the destructive waves were triggered by a volcanic eruption in the Sunda Strait between two Indonesian islands.
Pope Francis expressed his wish to be “spiritually close” to the displaced and “to all the people who are imploring God for relief in their suffering.”
The pope reflected on the importance of families being together at Christmas, but said he understood that “many people do not have this possibility, for different reasons.”
To people apart from their families at Christmas, Pope Francis extended an invitation to find a “true family” in the Catholic Church.
“Our heavenly Father does not forget you and does not abandon you. If you are a Christian, I wish you to find in the Church a true family, where you can experience the warmth of fraternal love,” he said.
Francis stressed that the doors of the Catholic community are open to Christians and non-Christians alike this Christmas. “Jesus is born for everyone and gives everyone the love of God,” he said.
The pope encouraged people preparing for Christmas to fix their gaze on Mary, who spent her months of waiting for Christ’s coming in service to her elderly relative, Elizabeth.
“The Gospel of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth prepares us to live Christmas well, communicating to us the dynamism of faith and charity,” Pope Francis said.
“A dynamism full of joy, as seen in the meeting between the two mothers, which is all a hymn of joyous exultation in the Lord, who does great things with the little ones who trust Him,” he continued.