A new report (PDF)from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) has labeled unexpected weather like China’s current snows as a great threat for the future. Sálvano Briceño, director of the UN/ISDR, wrote that “So-called ‘freak weather’ is becoming more common, and reducing vulnerability to these unexpected extremes must be a top priority for governments.”
The massive snows which have arrived just as the Lunar Festival is scheduled to begin, and provide many with their only holiday of the year, have killed scores of people and affected 19 provinces. Among these were two highlighted by the ISDR press release, Hunan and Guizhou, ‘more famed for their chilli peppers and subtropical climate than for heavy snow.’
The China Meteorological Administration said the weather was the coldest in 100 years in central Hubei and Hunan provinces, as determined by the total number of consecutive days of average temperature less than 1 degree Celsius.
“The weather over the disaster-stricken regions is likely to turn better in the next several days, but it is still necessary to remain alert for possible low temperatures, frozen rain, snow, freezing and heavy fog,” said administration head Zheng Guoguang.
Nevertheless, referring again to the ISDR press release, it is estimated that in total over 100 million Chinese have been affected by the weather, through loss of power and water. This is equivalent to at least the population of the UK and South Africa combined. Throughout the country, 1.7 million people have been evacuated, and the Chinese government is estimating the direct costs of the freak snowstorms sitting at $7.5 billion.
Stepping away from the Chinese issue for a moment, there are wider implications that the Chinese weather has forced people to wake up too.
The UN/ISDR secretariat is attempting to use the Chinese weather as an example of the growing importance of ensuring infrastructure is equipped to deal with weather that, until now, has been both unexpected and seemingly impossible.
The China Meteorological Administration (CMR) reaffirms this idea, saying that they must be prepared for more weather extremes as a direct result of climate change. Director Briceño, in agreement, noted that “the intensifying effect of climate change on weather, combined with global trends of rapid urbanization and environmental degradation, will lead to ever more complex disasters involving more and more people, and particularly affecting the poor. The impact of these storms on China’s vast, mobile population, are a lesson in how we need to reduce the risks associated with extreme weather that most countries can expect in the future.”
Director Briceño also praised the Chinese government’s “rapid activation of emergency plans” and the way that they responded to the needs of its citizens. “Governments across the world can learn from the Chinese government’s commitment. Governments should also learn from the shock of new types of disasters, and need to start examining how to best adapt to unpredictable, ‘freak’ onditions that may sadly become all too normal.”
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