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How floods become human catastrophes

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The greatest danger of an era of climate change is often the harsh fact of poverty.

That’s what turns extreme weather events into human catastrophes. It may take longer to recover. This is especially true for the world’s poorest people. Pakistan is experiencing very heavy rainfall in some of the most remote and poorest areas of the country. 550 killed this week.

Climate disasters can quickly become catastrophic for the most vulnerable, even in the world’s richest country, the United States.Think recent floods in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois. We don’t know how much climate change has exacerbated these floods. We do know that a hotter atmosphere can hold more moisture, resulting in extreme rainfall.

These floods have killed at least 37 people in Kentucky and two in Missouri. Kentucky experienced flooding in February 2020 and February 2021, followed by a tornado in December 2021 that claimed a record 80 lives.

That’s why it was puzzling to hear Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, say he’s baffled as to why certain communities in his state are repeatedly suffering. I would like you to tell me why areas that may not be known continue to come under attack and lose everything,” he said. said on Twitter.

To my colleague Christopher Flavel, who is focused on how people, governments, and industry are trying to address the effects of global warming, the answer seemed painfully obvious. So I asked him to spell it out.

Somini: What made the recent floods so devastating from a human perspective?

Chris: The risks you face from such floods are based on two things. For example, living in a steep valley that quickly floods during severe storms puts you at risk. Living in a home that wasn’t built to withstand floods like this makes you vulnerable. Physical exposure and social vulnerability overlap in dangerous and often tragic ways in low-income communities in Kentucky and elsewhere in Appalachia.

Housing has a lot to do with it. Homes are not always built according to the code. In fact, much of Kentucky has no residential building codes in place for single-family homes, according to the International Standards Council, a Washington-based nonprofit that oversees the development of these standards.

Somini: As you wrote recently, insurance also has a lot to do with it.

Chris: The hard truth of US disaster policy is that if your home is destroyed in a flood and you don’t have flood insurance, you don’t count on government assistance to make up the difference. The Federal Emergency Management Agency may provide assistance, but it probably won’t be enough to repair the home. is not in And even if lawmakers raise the money, it can take years to get it to those who need it.

So if you don’t buy flood insurance because it seems too expensive, you’re unlikely to get the savings you need to recover if your home is destroyed. More and more Americans will find themselves in this position as climate change makes flooding more frequent and intense. Additionally, outdated flood maps mean some people don’t have a good way of knowing the risks they face.

Somini: Are there counterexamples of people getting the right kind of insurance and getting back on their feet faster?

Chris: See the Jersey Shore after Superstorm Sandy. In many areas, the destruction was followed by the construction of larger and more expensive homes. At the other extreme, West has been to a town in Virginia that has not yet recovered from a flood that occurred years and decades ago.

Somini: Not just floods. Also heat. Our colleague Anne Bernard wrote this week about the shortage of cooling centers in New York City. When we think about adaptation, we often think of physical structures such as breakwaters and houses on stilts. Should adaptation also focus on social vulnerability?

Chris: Some governments are beginning to address the overlap between social vulnerability and climate risk in other ways. Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, recently began considering social conditions when prioritizing flood control projects. The Biden administration has also said that at least 40% of the profits from major federal disaster mitigation grants will go to disadvantaged communities.

Related:


By some standards, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after soccer, with 3 billion fans. But the match can last up to five days in extreme heat, and the countries where the game is most popular, such as India and Pakistan, are among the most vulnerable to climate change. When the islands reached Multan, Pakistan, temperatures reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit, about 44 degrees Celsius. “Global warming is already taking a toll on our sport.”


thank you for reading. I will be back on Tuesday.

Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.

Please contact us at climateforward@nytimes.com. We read all messages and reply to many!

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