Lost In the News Cycle

Natural disasters strike in all parts of the world every month of the year, but some that occur in remote locations often receive scant media coverage. The 24-hour news cycle thrives on the latest story, and the media seldom continue coverage after the initial report of a disaster elsewhere in the world.

During October, 2015, Hurricane Patricia in Mexico, the strongest on record, and heavy rains and flooding in Texas that killed 23 and destroyed or damaged 50,000 homes, received plenty of media coverage, but more deadly October events were hardly mentioned after the original reports. Here are a few examples.

Hindu Kush earthquake. The Hindu Kush is a mountain range that stretches 500 mi (800km) between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the western extension of the Himalayas, with mountain peaks soaring up to 25,000 ft. (7,700m). On October 26, a Magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck on the Afghanistan side of the range, triggering landslides that killed 400 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. Tremors were felt all through Central Asia, and as far away as Western China.

Indonesian fires. In October, forest and bog fires continued to burn out of control on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, wiping out millions of acres of tropical forest and causing a thick, choking haze that affected the health of millions of people in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. 500,000 are being treated for lung infection, and wildlife habitat is being decimated. The fires were started by people engaging in illegal slash-and-burn tactics to clear land for farming. The fires spread rapidly due to a stretch of unusually dry weather. The bog land contains deep layers of peat, and once set ablaze, is hard to put out. The carbon-rich peat fires have pumped 600 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Indonesian government estimates it will cost $47 billion to mitigate the damage.

Guatemala landslide. On October 1, at least 280 people died when a steep, rain-saturated mountainside above the Guatemalan village of Cambray Dos collapsed. The mountainside gave way at 9:30 at night, and the fast-moving landslide trapped people in their homes, many of which were buried under 50 ft. (15m) of mud and debris.

Philippines typhoon. Typhoon Koppu struck the island of Luzon on October 17, with sustained winds of 115 mph (185km/h), gusting to 150 mph (240km/h). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center Center reported Koppu as a Category 4 storm. As the typhoon weakened over Luzon’s mountainous terrain it dumped 42 inches (1078mm) of rain on Baguio, 120 mi (200km) north of Manila. The result was massive flooding that took 58 lives and made 100,000 homeless.

An earthquake, an erupting volcano, a tsunami, a tropical storm, a forest fire, a flood, a tornado, a landslide, or a drought strikes somewhere in the world almost every day of the year. But we only hear about a few. Mother Nature is a restless lady. Media coverage or not, natural disasters will continue to occur, and on a bigger scale as global warming progresses.