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‘Nature is striking back’: flooding around the world, from Australia to Venezuela

Heavy rain and rising waters continue to take a deadly toll in countries including Nigeria, Thailand and Vietnam

It has been a drenched 2022 for many parts of the world, at times catastrophically so. A year of disastrous flooding perhaps reached its nadir in Pakistan, where a third of the country was inundated by heavy rainfall from June, killing more than 1,000 people in what António Guterres, the UN secretary general, called an unprecedented natural disaster.

While floods are indeed natural phenomena, a longstanding result of storms, the human-induced climate crisis is amplifying their damage. Rising sea levels, driven by melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of water, are increasingly inundating coastal areas, while warmer temperatures are causing more moisture to accumulate in the atmosphere, which is then released as rain or snow.

Scientists have said flash floods are becoming a problem in some countries, with short, severe bursts of rain causing anything from annoyance to mayhem. Some places are whiplashing between severe drought and these sudden downpours, heightening the risk of mudslides and other knock-on effects.

As the world heats further, the sort of floods seen this year from Australia to Nigeria will probably become more common. “We have waged war on nature, and nature is striking back, and striking back in a devastating way,” Guterres lamented after visiting Pakistan in September.

More than 600 dead in Nigeria

Nigeria has been engulfed by its worst floods in a decade, affecting at least 18 of its 36 states and killing more than 600 people, with over a million internally displaced.

Several factors have been blamed, including the country’s land use plan, its disaster management, government inaction and a lack of investment in climate infrastructure. The climate crisis has resulted in unpredictable and heavier rainfall.

“To a large extent, most of Nigeria’s river flood plain has been mismanaged and has not been prioritised,” said Adedamola Ogunsesan, a project manager at the Nigerian Conservation Foundation. “The early warning system has not addressed how we are going to react when there is flooding. There was no clearcut information on the procedure of evacuation and ensuring safety.”

Similar floods were witnessed across the country in 2012, killing more than 300 people and displacing millions after excess water was released from the Lagdo Dam in northern Cameroon.

Flooding in Lokoja, Nigeria, on 13 October

The majority of affected states are in the south-east and north-central regions, where hundreds of communities have been cut off and are without access to food, clean water and fuel. “There are some communities, especially in the rural areas, that people now sleep inside canoes and move around in them,” said Yeri Dekumo, a special assistant to the Bayelsa state governor, one of the badly hit states.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, is yet to address the country since the flooding started four weeks ago, and no state of emergency has been declared. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency has said the country should brace for more flooding.
Ope Adetayo in Lagos

Second ‘once-in-a-century’ flood in 11 years in parts of Australia

Heavy rain across south-east Australia this month has forced thousands of people from their homes. Flooding has affected at least 16 rivers in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the island state of Tasmania.

Riverine flooding inundated the western suburbs of Melbourne, while elsewhere people worked to evacuate livestock, dig trenches and sandbag properties as rivers burst their banks.

In the northern Victorian town of Echuca, which lies at the junction of three rivers, residents are bracing for what is forecast to be the worst flood in 150 years, with hopes that a 2km-long temporary soil levee will protect the town centre from rising waters.

People clear mud from a property damaged by floods in the Melbourne suburb of Maribyrnong on 15 October.

Another Victorian town, Kerang, expects to be cut off from the rest of the state for up to two weeks. It is the second time in 11 years that residents have had to prepare for a “one-in-100-years” flood.

There have been hundreds of reports of native wildlife caught in flooding. Footage has emerged of kangaroos bounding through murky waters, emus wading through a submerged yard, and an echidna trying to float on a plastic bottle.

The flooding has resulted from heavy rain over areas with full catchments and soils still saturated by two years of wet La Niña summers. For the first time in decades, some dams are at capacity. Sydney has experienced its wettest year on record, while in other regions, century-old October rainfall records have been broken. In a single hour on 7 October, Melbourne received half its average monthly rainfall.

The crisis comes half a year after flooding devastated swaths of the east coast in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

Unpredictable rains in south-east Asia

Unusually heavy monsoon rains and flash flooding have ravaged several south-east Asian countries this week, killing dozens of people, forcing thousands to flee their homes and damaging key agricultural areas.

Intense rain is expected to continue throughout this week in Thailand, where 59 of the country’s 77 provinces have already been hit by floods affecting about 450,000 homes and more than 100,000 hectares of farmland, according to reports. Thai authorities have reportedly earmarked about 23bn baht (£538m) for assistance.

Tourism and mop-up efforts in the popular holiday destination of Phuket were held up by more rains on Wednesday, where residents described the recent storms as the worst the island had experienced in 30 years.

A resident wades through flood water in Ubon Ratchathani province, north-east Thailand, on 5 October

In central Vietnam, with more storms on the way, the flooding death toll rose to 10, local reports said, while more than 11,000 homes were submerged in the Da Nang area along the coast.

Cambodian authorities cast partial blame on higher-than-normal water levels in the drowning deaths of 11 children when a ferry sank last week. The incident came on the heels of the prime minister, Hun Sen, sacking the agriculture minister after extensive flooding damaged rice paddies in northern provinces.

Unpredictable rains after severe drought have badly affected the region in recent years, and scientists point to climate change-induced weather patterns.
Fiona Kelliher in Phnom Penh

Towns washed away in Venezuela

The northern Venezuelan town of El Castaño was devastated on Monday when a dam collapsed under the pressure of heavy rains. The resulting torrent washed away everything in its path.

Most of the town’s inhabitants have been evacuated and efforts are under way to try to open access to a neighbouring town that remains cut off by the floods and subsequent power outrages. The military has dispatched 2,800 soldiers to the area to aid recovery efforts.

People near the scene of a landslide caused by heavy rains in Las Tejerias, Venezuela, on 9 October

El Castaño was the latest town in Aragua state to be devastated by heavy rains in recent weeks. At least 54 people were killed on 8 October when mudslides ripped through the town of Las Tejerias.

The disasters have been linked to the climate crisis, with 35 days’ worth of average rainfall falling in a single day in Las Tejerias.

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