The disaster of hurricane Matthew in Haiti – a consequence of climate change

by Sara Löwgren 

Once again a poor country which has contributed insignificantly to climate change has been hit catastrophically by its consequences. As our climate continues to change as a result of our irresponsible actions vulnerable countries continue to suffer from the impacts.


On October 4th hurricane Matthew hit the west coast of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries. Although it was downgraded to a class one hurricane – the least destructive on a scale of one to five- the hurricane caused massive damage. The death toll was last reported to be 877 people but the number is still rising. 350, 000 people are in need of humanitarian aid and 1 million households are without power. In some neighborhoods 80-90% of the buildings have been destroyed and although the Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal of $6.9m the situation is critical as Haiti never truly recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2010. Haiti is poorly prepared and highly vulnerable to natural disasters.  (BBC October 8th 2016).

The correlation between rising global temperatures and extreme weather events is well-known. The risk of hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms related to climate change is high already at an additional temperature rise of 1° C (1.8° F) according to IPCC. With further rise of global temperatures the number of hurricanes and their duration and intensity will increase even more (Webster et al 2005).

Economically less developed countries are in general more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. The risk of devastating events such as hurricanes, floods or droughts increases as global mean temperature increases (IPCC 2014) but the risk is not evenly distributed. The risk of a hurricane occurring is higher in tropical, sub-tropical and coastal regions, but the risk of a humanitarian crisis as a consequence of the weather event is higher in economically less developed countries. According to the Aljazeera (October 8th 2016) Haiti was already weakened by the earthquake in 2010 and the cholera outbreaks that followed and thus the nation was less ready to cope with the disaster of a hurricane.

Not surprisingly the countries of the global South are the main victims of climate change even though their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is relatively insignificant. For instance the 2013 carbon dioxide emissions of Haiti was 0.231 metric ton per capita compared to 7.551 per capita in China and 16.39 per capita in the US (World Bank n.d.).

The consequences of climate change primarily caused by economically more developed countries are already visible before our eyes. The impacts are destroying countries and the lives of people who have done the least to cause climate change. The correlation between climate change and extreme weather catastrophes is being forgotten again and again as the majority of our media reports about extreme weathers events and the disasters caused by them without making the connection to our changing climate. Climate change denial and denial of its effects are major threats to our planet. If we look away from the consequences of climate change, ignoring the changes that need to be made is easy. This is why we need to spread awareness about the connection between our actions and their consequences. The burning of fossil fuels, wasteful use of resources and excessive consumption all cause our climate to change. Thus it contributes to the increasing number and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes that cause disasters with countries of the global South being the main victims. It is in no way just or acceptable and this is where climate justice is desperately needed.  We need to take action to bring our society away from emitting greenhouse gases, towards sustainability and clean energy.

Bibliography

Hurricane Matthew: Death toll soars in Haiti (Oct 8th 2016) Aljazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/hurricane-matthew-death-toll-soars-haiti-161007032418625.html 10-09-2016

Hurricane Matthew: Haiti south ‘90% destroyed’ (Oct 8th 2016) BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37596222 10-09-2016

IPCC, 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptions, and Vulnerability. Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

Webster, P. J., Holland, G. J., Curry, J. A., & Chang, H. R. (2005). Changes in tropical cyclone number, duration, and intensity in a warming environment.Science, 309(5742), 1844-1846.

Worldbank (n.d.) China retrieved from  http://data.worldbank.org/country/china?view=chart 10-09-2016

Worldbank (n.d.) Haiti retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/country/haiti 10-09-2016

Worldbank (n.d.) US retrieved from  http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states?view=chart 10-09-2016

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