Hurricane Michael one of strongest hurricanes ever to hit US

Hurricane Michael clobbered and flooded neighborhoods in Florida that were in its path after the Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. According to meteorologists, no Category 4 or 5 hurricane has made landfall in the Florida Panhandle since record-keeping began in 1851.

Shortly before slamming Florida’s Panhandle, Hurricane Michael had strengthened to a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph that was expected to flood the coast with deadly storm surge. The National Weather Service said the hurricane made landfall just 2 mph away from being classified as a Category 5 storm.

Emergency officials across the region, in fear of their own safety, temporarily stopped responding to 911 calls from residents who hadn’t evacuated. Some area newsrooms lost power, cutting off the flow of information from local journalists covering the storm.

“This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

The storm’s central pressure had plunged the lowest recorded for any hurricane to hit the U.S. except for Hurricane Camille in 1969 and an unnamed hurricane in 1935, which were both storms with Category 5 winds.

Michael is forecast to lash coastal areas of Florida, Alabama and Georgia with as much as 12 inches of rain. Farther inland, damaging winds, torrential rain and life-threatening flash floods are forecast for parts of Georgia and Alabama.

One of the biggest concerns on the coast is storm surge. If the storm moves ashore during high tide, a 130-mile stretch of the coast could see storm surges as high as 14 feet.

Michael could cause as many as 1.8 million customers to lose power in Florida and southern Georgia.

[Los Angeles Times]

12 years to curb climate change

The latest United Nations report warns that we have just 12 years to curb climate change!

The UN report, which is based on more than 6,000 scientific references from 91 authors across 40 countries, outlines the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It warns that the world is rapidly running out of time before catastrophic effects on the planet take place. Drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s climate change body, the report calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Without action, by the year 2040 ours will be a world of increasing wildfires and droughts, inundated coastlines, the mass die-off of coral reefs, and massive food shortages. Put together, this compendium of global cataclysms will put the lives of “several hundred million” people at risk.

Climate change making humanitarian work harder

Climate change is already making emergency response efforts around the world more difficult, more unpredictable and more complex, according to the world’s largest humanitarian network.

This warning from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) coincides with the launch of a UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report that sets out the predicted impacts of both a 1.5°C and a 2.0°C rise in the global average temperature by 2099.

In 2017, IFRC and the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network responded to over 110 emergencies, reaching more than 8 million people. IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “More than half of our operations are now in direct response to weather-related events, and many others are compounded by climate shocks and stresses. If this is the situation now, then it is difficult to comprehend the scale of crises confronting vulnerable communities in a world that is 1.5°C or 2.0°C hotter.”

Dr Maarten van Aalst, a climate scientist and director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre based in The Hague, added: “Climate remains at the center of the international agenda. In 2018, we have seen lethal heatwaves and wildfires across the Northern Hemisphere, including in unexpected places like eastern Canada, Japan and Sweden. A rapid analysis in July by an international group of climate scientists showed that in some European locations climate change made the heatwave at least twice as likely.”

[IFRC]

What’s next for survivors of Indonesian tsunami?

In the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that flattened entire villages and a tsunami hit this coastal region on the island of Sulawesi, the Indonesian government is shifting its attention to the mammoth task of cleaning up and rebuilding. The twin disasters have caused as estimated $700 million in damage and taken over 2,0000 so far. [Expected to climb to 7000!] Officials say that rebuilding and reconstructing the villages could take months, as engineers and scientists work to guarantee that the new cities will be better able to withstand the frequent quakes. Read about liquefaction

For over 70,000 now homeless survivors, and the many more who have lost loved ones, have a more urgent and daunting task of contemplating what to do next.

Some have crowded the crippled airport looking for coveted spots on flights out of the city. Others have joined caravans of motorbikes and cars streaming south to larger cities.

Most, however, remain scattered at makeshift camps pitched on any patch of open space. Those whose houses have not been destroyed say they are too afraid to return inside, fearful that the weakened structures could collapse, especially if there is a strong aftershock.

Many know, too, that they will be dependent on aids and handouts for weeks to come.

[Washington Post]

Hurricane Florence’s financial toll on US homes and businesses

Across the three U.S. states hardest hit by Hurricane Florence — North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — the cost to rebuild is staggering. Here’s a look at the devastation’s price tag:

$45 billion property damage – The top-end estimate of property damage reflects the effects of floodwaters and strong winds on thousands of single-family homes across an enormous disaster zone, according to Moody’s Analytics.

$28.5 billion in flood losses – That’s the maximum estimate of all flood losses across the zone, including from storm surge, rain and rising rivers, an analysis by the firm CoreLogic shows. North Carolina is thought to have suffered most, with $22 billion in losses.

$18.5 billion in estimated uninsured flood loss – As in Hurricane Katrina, most homes and businesses devastated by Florence’s floodwaters were not insured for damage from rising water.

[Source: CNN]

Ending malnutrition, one sack garden at a time

In the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, the streets and gutters are flooded with trash. The poor families who live here struggle to put food on the table.

Grace Kwamboka knows this struggle all too well. Each week she spent much of her meager income to buy food to feed her three boys. But Operation Blessing had another solution—a sack garden.

These gardens require very little space and grow bountiful amounts of produce. With these new gardens, Grace can now feed her family without the need to spend money at the market. She can prepare her family healthy, delicious meals right from her own garden.

The fight against malnutrition

Everybody wants to end hunger. That is what all UN-member countries stated when signing the 2030 Agenda for a better world: the second of its 17 goals aims at eradicating all forms of malnutrition (which include overweight, obesity or micronutrient deficiencies) and ensuring that everybody has access to nutritious and healthy foods.

In 2017, the world was home to 821 million hungry people, almost 2.2 billion overweight people and 670 million obese adults (and this number is rising). On top of that, at least 1.5 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies that undermine their health and lives.

What do we really need to do to eradicate all forms of malnutrition? In the first place, we need to acknowledge that this battle should receive high priority. The fight against hunger should not slip down in the list of global priorities such as climate change, migrations or population growth

Secondly, we need more funds. It takes money to make things happen and Governments —the real game-changers— need resources to pave the way towards environmentally, economically and socially sustainable food systems.

Governments can’t do it on their own, nor can those with deep pockets acting alone. The same applies to international agencies, NGOs, civil society and/or the private sector working. We really need to combine and align our efforts.

[IPS]

The Palestinians see a few bright spots

Last week, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour hosted a reception for diplomats from 40 countries the Palestinians are encouraging to get involved in their negotiations with Israel, effectively downgrading Washington’s role as the premier broker.

He accompanied Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to a meeting with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who reiterated his support for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees. Mansour also helped collect $118 million in pledges to partially make up for U.S. funding cuts to UNRWA.

On Thursday, Mansour was elected to the presidency of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing nations. The position, which speaks for countries representing 80 percent of the world’s population, gives the Palestinians a notable voice at a time when their relations with the United States are virtually nonexistent.

“It was only a few years ago that we raised the flag of the state of Palestine before the United Nations. And it was only yesterday that the state of Palestine is chairing the largest negotiating voting bloc in the history of the United Nations. Shouldn’t I be hopeful?” said Mansour.

So far, support for Palestinian causes at the United Nations has done little to improve prospects for peace with Israel or living conditions for most Palestinians, particularly those in the Gaza Strip. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is closer than ever to the Trump administration, and the administration is a staunch defender of Israel at the United Nations.

In the past year, the United States has dropped out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing its “unrelenting bias” against Israel. It recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the contested city. It closed down the PLO office in Washington, citing its lack of progress in joining negotiations with Israel. And it cut financial aid to Palestinians, including $300 million to UNRWA that helped fund secular schools in Gaza.

Mansour cited a December vote in the General Assembly in which 128 nations condemned the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while only seven countries besides the United States and Israel opposed the measure. He also noted that a U.S. draft resolution in the Security Council in June condemning Hamas for the violence in Gaza was rejected 14 to 1, with only the United States favoring it.

[Washington Post]

UN Court orders US to lift Iran sanctions linked to humanitarian goods

The United Nations’ highest court, located in The Hague, on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from” the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

The court also told both the United States and Iran to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”

[AP]

Indonesia tsunami devastation mounts

Over 1,300 people are confirmed to have been killed by a Tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last Friday. The global international crisis response system is kicking into high gear right now, but relief efforts are in a race against time.

Speaking from the island’s main city Palu, a relief worker with Mercy Corps sent an message to reporters stating: “The situation in Palu remains grave. Food and water is scarce and many of the people I have spoken with haven’t eaten in days — and that is the situation in Palu, a city which is receiving support. People at the epicentre of the quake are still largely cut-off from the aid effort.”

“Critical roads remain closed, destroyed or blocked by the quake, and a lack of fuel means that even if the roads were open, we might not be able to reach those affected. In such a geographically challenging context as Indonesia, fuel is of critical importance: it powers the diggers that are needed to clear roads, the generators in hospitals and displacement camps, and the trucks that are needed to cover the hundreds of kilometers of affected area. Without fuel, there won’t be aid deliveries.”

The Tsunami was triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and swept through a Palu bay, the terminus of which is the city of Palu, which has a population of 380,000.

This is a system coordinated through the United Nations, in which NGOs, governments and UN agencies take on specific tasks necessary in an emergency like this.  It already appears that the logistical challenge of importing relief items will be immense.

Aid could be delivered via a “humanitarian land bridge” from Jakarta to Sulawesi, [a spokesperson for the UN Migration Agency] said, noting that the idea had been implemented following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, from Jakarta to Aceh and from Medan to Aceh.

Delivering aid to Sulawesi through the port of Palu, continues to be a major challenge, however, the IOM spokesperson explained. “The port itself has not been damaged (but) the cranes and gantries and the equipment you would use to remove goods from vessels have been badly damaged,” he said, adding that in some case they had been “completely knocked down, and access to the port itself is very difficult.”

[UN Dispatch]