Environmental Disasters of 2011

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As the eventful year of 2011 draws to a close, the environmental front has had its share in the headlines. From disastrous earthquakes to calamitous hurricanes, take a look back at the year’s worst environmental disasters.

The first quarter of the year almost had a perfect monthly record of major environmental disasters around the world.

One after another, highly developed countries were hit with floods, mudslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis that were unusual in their intensity and magnitude.

Australia suffered from “biblical” floods that devastated more than 51 communities across the country in January. High intensity rainfall responsible for massive flooding across Australia has been linked to La Niña and weather changing patterns among other things. The intensity of the floods have resulted in billions of dollars in damage and loss of life despite officials’ efforts.  In January, Brazil suffered from landslides and mudslides caused by heavy rainfall. Hundreds of people died in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil when they were swept away and suffocated by mudslides. The weather in both Brazil and Australia have been described as “extreme.”

New Zealand made headlines with a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit and devastated Christchurch in February. The earthquake claimed 181 lives and cost over 10 billion dollars in damages. In June and in the middle of rebuilding efforts, the region was hit by another series of earthquakes of the same magnitude and caused further damage. The series and magnitude of earthquakes were described as “geologically unusual,” as the region had a record of generally low seismic activity for thousands of years.

Japan was hit by major earthquakes that resulted in massive tsunamis in March and April, the worse of which reached a magnitude of 9.0 (Tōhoku, Japan). Almost 20,000 people were killed from the environmental disasters that shocked the nation and the world. Being one of the leading countries in technology, the tragedy inJapan was all the more sobering. It is yet another reminder that perhaps our grandest schemes and greatest ideas to arm against nature can simply collapse and leave us defenseless.

In April the tornado frequency in United States set a new record of 748 tornadoes in a single month. The tornadoes that swept across central US claimed more than 500 lives and left 24 billion dollars in damage. Hurricane Irene and the Tornado which hit Joplin Missouri made headlines as they left extensive damage and loss of lives across the US.

The worst drought in sixty years (as reported by the UN) continues to devastate East Africa and affects more than 10 million people. Similarly, China faces a dry spell that might mean fewer water supplies for 14 million of its citizens.

Oil spills around the globe contaminated oceans and put marine life at risk. A cargo ship ran aground in New Zealand and spilled oil from its fuel tanks onto the beach. One of Shell company’s pipelines leaked creating a 30 mile oil slick into the Gulf Coast. Even worse, a 324 sq. mile oil spill was discovered in Bohai Bay,China, after a month of successful cover up. An oil spill from a pipeline also leaked into the Alaskan tundra.

And just a few days before Christmas, the Philippines woke up to horrific news of sudden flash floods that occurred overnight in the Mindanao area. More than 1,200 people were killed as waters rose to 11 feet in less than an hour, brought on by heavy and sudden rainfall. Another thousand residents were reported missing in the aftermath. Entire towns were transformed into muddy ghost towns, as at least a hundred thousand people were evacuated from the sites. Residents tried to celebrate Christmas beside mass graves prepared for the unclaimed victims. Again, the area was not one to experience tropical cyclones in the nation’s history. Illegal logging is also being investigated as an additional cause to the environmental disaster.

2012 has already gained a reputation for itself as a dooms year among many.

For the environmental refugees of the disasters of 2011, that might be a little hard to believe in light of their present suffering.

The question persists into the coming new year: Are these environmental disasters a natural result of normal global patterns, or are they caused directly/indirectly by human activities?

Take time to learn the lessons that can be gleaned from the environmental disasters of 2011, and enter the new year with a better understanding and perspective of the global environmental situation.


Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Perambara/Amantha Perera on Flickr.

Estel M.
About Estel M. (339 Posts)

Estel Grace Masangkay is a creative writer who enjoys outdoor trips and nature activities. She is passionate about sustainability and environment conservation. Follow Me @Em23me.

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