Asia Pacific has seen an unprecedented year of natural disasters in 2019 with a spate of fires, monsoons and typhoons with experts predicting the worst is yet to come.
In August this year, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia released its Asia Pacific Disaster Report for 2019, revealing the economic losses of disasters hit $675 billion over the past 12 months. The cost of catastrophes accounted for about 2.4% of the region’s gross domestic product, and the UN has warned of a relentless sequence of disasters.
The remainder of 2019 has been no different. Alongside the natural catastrophes to hit Asia, Australasia and the South Pacific, man-made disasters have also taken their toll in APAC. Here, StrategicRisk Asia Pacific highlights five of the biggest catastrophes to hit the region during 2019:
South Asia monsoons
In July, between 150 and 600 people were killed by flash floods, lightning, and torrential rains, in the aftermath of monsoon weather.
Millions of people were affected by the monsoons in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as the region suffered its worst flood damage for several years.
According to London-based flood experts JBA risk management, the worst affected areas were the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, with 30 out of 33 districts flooded in Assam. Between 11 and 17 July, Assam received 175mm of rainfall, 76% more than total.
In India alone, more than 460 people were killed by flooding by the start of July, AFP news agency reported, citing regional disaster management authorities.
Aside from the significant death toll, monsoon season also affected crops in the regions. More than two million acres of land used for crops were destroyed.
Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes amid the devastating floods. The flash floods followed similar flooding in the region in 2017, when more than 1,000 people were killed.
Townsville, in Queensland, Australia, was hit by one of its worst natural disasters in February as a 1 in 100 year flood event swept through the region.
The floods were caused by a slow-moving tropical low sweeping through the region, during Australia’s seasonal monsoon period.
The flooding forced large-scale evacuations, after the region received more than a metre of rain in 10 days, the equivalent of a year’s worth of rainfall. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology described the floods as “unprecedented”.
Thousands of people were evacuated during the floods, and regional authorities were forced to release a dam after it swelled to double its natural capacity.
A total of five people were said to have been killed, with thousands more evacuated from their homes during February.
The insurance cost of the Townsville floods hit $1.24 billion in the aftermath of the event, with more than 30,000 insurance claims filed, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.
Australia was hit by catastrophic bush fires in November 2019, with fires raging across New South Wales and Queensland.
Authorities have declared a “catastrophic” rating for Sydney for the first time since 2009’s Black Saturday bush fires, which killed 173 people.
Strong winds and high temperatures exacerbated conditions in the eastern Australian state. Low rainfall also compounded the problems facing the region.
Aside from the human impact of the fires, the catastrophe has impacted livestock and farming areas, reduced soil fertility, and could contaminate water and other resources.
At one stage in early December, authorities were struggling to fight more than 140 bush fires. At one point, more than 47 fires were “uncontained”, according to fire authorities.
According to Australian regional authorities, six people have been killed during the fires, and more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed.
The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said some of the fires were “too big” to put out. A months-long drought, temperatures above 40 degrees celsius, and strong winds have each contributed to the damage.
According to the Insurance Council of Australia, the damage from the bushfire crisis has hit more than $145 million so far, with more than 1,340 claims handled by the sector so far.
The fires are expected to cause long-lasting damage to Australia’s agricultural economy. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates a $20 million bill from farms in Queensland alone.
Samoa Measles Epidemic
More than 63 people have been killed in the pacific island of Samoa since October amid an outbreak of measles, a man-made catastrophe blamed on misinformation from the “anti-vax” movement.
Anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists have contributed to a low uptake of measles vaccinations in recent years. More than 4,000 people have been affected by the outbreak, with close to 50 of the dead aged under five.
Samoa’s low vaccination rates are partly due to the death of two children in 2018, who were given a wrongly-mixed vaccine. Since then, anti-vax campaigners have hijacked the issue, with vaccination rates plummeting to 31%, compared to close to 99% in neighbouring islands.
The Samoan government has declared a state of emergency. The government has also introduced a programme of compulsory vaccinations and has arrested anti-vaccination activists to prevent further deaths.
The outbreak comes as measles cases rise worldwide, even in developed nations. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of measles cases quadrupled in the first three months of the year, compared to the first quarter of 2018.
A total of 110,000 people die from measles each year, a figure expected to rise as people in developed nations are convinced to ignore medical advice.
More than 90 people were killed in August as Typhoon Lekima hit the Philippines, Eastern China, Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands.
The typhoon began over the Philippine Sea in early August before causing devastation across the region.
Chinese officials said more than five million people in Zhejiang Province were affected by the typhoon. In Zhejiang, Lekima damaged 34,000 houses and crops worth 14.57 billion yuan, according to state media.
According to EM-DAT, Typhoon Lekima was one of the most expensive typhoons on record in Asia. Total economic losses are estimated at $2.5 billion.
Aside from massive damage in the region, the typhoon also disrupted travel. More than 3,200 flights were cancelled across China and neighbouring countries, and ports and train services were also cancelled.
A total of one million people were evacuated as the deadline typhoon made landfall in China.