Halfway through 2020: Here are 20 disasters from the distressing year (Part I)

Aparupa Mazumder
Wednesday, 1 July 2020

 “People are trying to decide whether the manmade disaster is worse than Mother Nature's disaster.” – Sabato.

Disasters affect countless lives and thousands of communities across the globe, leaving their mental and physical well-being for a toss and disrupting their economic and social development. Disasters cause widespread human and environmental loss. Let alone the trauma of the disaster, the aftermath where the victims try to cope up and rebuild the loss both literally and figuratively has a huge effect on one’s well-being.
 
Disasters can be humanmade or natural. Earthquake, volcanic eruption, pandemic, cloudburst, cyclone, war, terror attacks, riots, etc. can leave massive impacts like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused from an endless list of losses like beloved one, possessions, health care disruption, etc.

History can vouch for the fact that both natural and humanmade disasters have been part and parcel of human civilisation since its inception. Rewind to 79 AD, the famous Mt. Vesuvius near the Bay of Naples in Italy had erupted, burying the ancient Roman city of Pompeii with volcanic ashes and destroying almost the whole civilisation. It was one of those instances in the history of disasters which can never be forgotten. Cut to August 6, 1945, nearly 1,900 years later, when two nuclear strikes were executed in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the ongoing event of The Second World War, completely ransacking both the cities, turning almost every last living being into ashes. This too was another instance from the history of disasters which led to the collapse of a nation. The only difference between these cases was the cause, the former being natural and the latter being humanmade.
Speaking of the present day, halfway through 2020, we see the continued spell of one of the biggest disasters of the century in the form of a global pandemic. Even otherwise, the year has brought news of grief aplenty.
 
Here’s a list of 20 devastating natural and humanmade disasters which have been marked in history since the beginning of the new decade:

1.    Continued Australian bushfires (2019-2020): Australia was already suffering from the bushfires in the harsh summer in the southern hemisphere. Multiple bushfires erupted in New South Wales and led the government to declare a state of emergency. 

More than 46 million acres (72,000 square miles) of land were burned to the ground, at least 3,500 houses and thousands of buildings turned to ashes, and 34 people died during the entire span of the fire which mostly got contained by the rain in February 2020. Around 80 per cent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage site in New South Wales and 53 per cent of the Gondwana World Heritage rainforest in Queensland got burned. Approximately US$1.3 billion was lost to the bushfires. Many firefighters were injured, the wildlife was gravely affected, and more than a billion animals had been killed due to the bushfires. Endangered species are facing the risk of extinction to date. 

2.    Stampede at Qasem Soleimani’s Funeral, Iran (January 7, 2020): The whole world was shocked by the assassination of the Iranian Major-General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Soleimani was killed on January 3 at Baghdad airport in a drone-strike planned by the United States. This assassination triggered concerns about the possibility of a war. The funeral of the major-general was held from January 4 to 7 in different cities including his hometown Kerman. The funeral procession on January 7 turned into a disaster with a stampede during the burial of Soleimani. At least 56 mourners died, and over 200 were injured during the procession. The mismanaged crowd resulted in delaying Soleimani’s burial. Several videos started surfacing on the internet showing mourners lying dead on the streets with.  

3.    Mass cull of Feral Camels in Australia (January 8, 2020): What can be otherwise termed as the most inhumane system of administration, the local APY government Lands, on January 8 started a five-day hunt of wild Australian feral camels, found across the Australian mainland, using sniper guns from helicopters. Thousands of camels lay dead courtesy the brutal plan. Due to the extreme heat, drought and the bushfire, feral camels were barging into human settlements, mostly in the Aboriginal communities. Due to lack of habitat, the camels were seen roaming on streets, destroying infrastructure to find water. 

The Australian government was fed up with these camels and has labelled them as ‘pests’. By the end of the operation, nearly 10,000 camels had been shot to death. The APY, in its statement, said, "The feral camel groups are putting pressure in the remote Aboriginal communities in the APY Lands and pastoral operations as the camels search for water.” 

4.    Taal Volcano eruption, Philippines (January 12, 2020): On January 12, the Taal Volcano in Batangas, Philippines woke up after 43 years with a massive eruption spewing ash, gases and lava across multiple cities in a hazardous way. The volcano had previously erupted in 1977. Around 459,300 people, including 21,000 children, were residing within the danger zone of 14 km. Visibility was reduced to a bare minimum due to heavy ash-fall. Almost 39 people lost their lives to this disaster. A loss of US $60.1 million worth of crops covering 2,722 hectares of mainland and 1,967 animals was reported. About 30 per cent of the fish caged in the Taal Lake were destroyed. Kapeng Barako, coffee, cacao, banana, pineapple plantation, rice crops, Coffea liberica, corn, and many other crops suffered massive losses amounting up to millions of dollars. 

5.    Death of Kobe Bryant, California (January 26, 2020): Kobe Bryant, a retired NBA basketball player, was one of the most prominent faces in the sports fraternity around the world. On January 26, a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crashed and caught fire in Calabasas, California while going to Camarillo Airport. All the nine people on board died from blunt trauma due to the crash, including Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, baseball coach John Altobelli, and five other passengers along with the pilot. The reason behind the crash is still unclear as no engine failure was found. The crash prompted a bushfire. The death of Bryant caused major trauma to the world of sports. Tributes poured across the world for Bryant and his teenaged daughter, who had a promising career in basketball ahead of her.

6.    Hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica (February 6, 2020): United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Rising temperatures continue to melt records. The past decade was the hottest on record. Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second. One million species are in near-term danger of extinction. Our planet is burning.” 

On February 6, Antarctica recorded the hottest temperature which reached up to 18.3°C (64.9°F)—equal to the temperature of Los Angeles on that day. There was a widespread melting of glaciers due to the warm temperatures which continued till February 13. The Eagle Island experienced the melt-up to 30 mm on the same day. 106 mm of snowpack melted in Eagle Island till February 11 causing about 20 per cent seasonal snow to melt in this single event. Such a significant change in Antarctica's weather was never noted before, but this persistent warmth has become common in the last few years. The sea surface temperature was also 2-3°C higher than usual. The heatwave in February caused the third major ice pack melting event of 2019-2020 summers. 

7.    Delhi riots, India (February 23, 2020): As a result of the ongoing anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests, widespread communal riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in different places of North-Eastern part of the national capital. These riots caused a tremendous amount of bloodshed, property destruction and death of 53 people. It was yet another humanmade disaster chiefly caused by religious extremists. Two-third of the killed were from minorities (Muslims) who were shot, slashed or set on fire. The riots also killed intelligence officers, police personnel and more. 

Dead bodies lay still in open drains; general wings of hospitals got filled with thousands of wounded patients, longing for assistance from inadequate facilities. Vandalism crossed its limits when men were forced to strip before being brutally attacked. Even religious places were set on fire. 

Attackers used firebombing with cooking gas cylinders as a brutal tool along with guns, swords, sticks, etc. Several journalists were brutally attacked while covering the riots. The violent attacks coincided with US President Donald Trump's visit to India who did not wish to comment on the issue. 

8.    WHO declares the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic (March 11, 2020): The novel coronavirus which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019, has taken a significant toll on the world having affected every possible sector to its core. Healthcare, education, business, travel and tourism, foreign affairs, agriculture, technology, urban and rural administration, global peace and harmony and every possible commodity has been gravely devastated by this global phenomenon. It was declared to be a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020. The virus has been racing around the globe ever since its origin. 

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it to be a pandemic, acknowledging it to be a healthcare disaster. The world in its entirety has come to a halt with every country forced to declare lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.  Social distancing norms have become a part of life. The only ray of hope to combat this disaster is a discovery in the medical realm.

So far, over 10 million people across the world have been infected by the virus with over half-a-million deaths.

9.    The mass exodus of migrant workers in India (March-April, 2020): After the nationwide lockdown commenced in India due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, tens of thousands of migrant workers in India were left stranded without jobs all over the country. Construction work, transport services, housekeeping services and other major small-scale informal sectors had to be stopped without prior notice, thus resulting in a mass exodus. Migrant workers fled major cities to return to their hometowns and villages during the ongoing threat of the pandemic, fearing the virus and unemployment. The lockdown was commenced to curb down the spread of the virus. The mass exodus only resulted in the opposite of what was intended. With negligible transport options available, these migrant workers, along with their families in a desperate bid to return home had to resort to travelling for hundreds of kilometres on foot. Even though the government arranged for special trains to ease travel for these workers, 134 people died in accidents or from exhaustion while struggling to return to their rural places.  

10.    Gas blast in Lagos, Nigeria (March 15, 2020):  On March 15, an accidental explosion at a gas plant followed by a fire caused the death of at least 15 people, injured over 25 and destroyed about 50 buildings in the Abule-Ado area around Festac Town, under Amuwo Odofin local state government area of Lagos in Nigeria. The explosion was caused after a truck ran into gas cylinders piled up in a plant. The Bethlehem Girls College in Abule-Ado was destroyed due to the blast and the college’s Principal, Henrietta Alokha died while trying to save the children from the fire outbreak inside the college premises. 

To be continued in Part 2...

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