The Queensland floods have dominated local media in the last week, and rightly so. However, other nations, including Sri Lanka, Brazil and South Africa, are also suffering severe flooding, although their governments may not be as equipped to cope with the devastation.
Flooding in Sri Lanka is so dire the UN has sent one of its top relief officials in to coordinate an international appeal. Despite the relatively low death toll of 40, “…in terms of the numbers of people displaced and farmland inundated, the floods have been even more devastating than the tsunami of December 2004,” reports Dominic Ziegler in the Economist. Think over a million people displaced from their homes, over 200,000 in displaced persons camps last week, 137 camps and nearly 4,000 homes destroyed. Cost estimates of the damage stand at US $500 million, with particular concern for huge amounts of damaged crops.
But, as the Economist notes, some of the flood issues facing Sri Lanka aren’t just environmental. There are fears that flood waters will dislodge land mines placed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Much of the flooding occurred areas populated with Tamils, a minority who already has long-term political issues with the Sri Lankan government.
Over near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the death toll from recent floods and mudslides has reached 655 people, the worst disaster of its kind for 40 years. Over 13,000 are homeless, whole villages remain cut off from supplies and there are fears of disease. The rain has not stopped. A haunting photo shows a dog sitting by the grave of its owner for two consecutive days, after the owner was killed in the flooding.
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Despite Brazil being a country accustomed to flood devastation, there has been a swell of local volunteers coming to help, adding to the 1,500 emergency personnel working on flood rescue and clean up. Recovery is expected to cost US$1.2 billion.
Local Brazilian authorities are being blamed for inadequate flood warning and urban planning as well as for mismanaging public funds that were supposed to go towards flood prevention and preparation. And to this that Brazil’s new president Dilma Rousseff only stepped into the job on January 1, and it’s become a political baptism by flood.
Meanwhile, 40 people are either dead or missing in South Africa, following weeks of heavy rain and flooding. One of the dead includes a firefighter whose raft capsized during a rescue attempt. Many of those worst affected by the floods are the poor, with nearly 8,500 shacks swept away.
The government recently declared seven out of the country’s nine provinces as disaster zones, with most of the devastation centred the Northern Cape and the North West, as well as the province around Johannesburg. Expected long term effects from the flood include a rise in unemployment and increased food prices.
In neighbouring Mozambique, floods have left 13,000 affected or homeless from flooding and ten people dead.
Last year’s horrific Pakistan floods — where 1/5 of Pakistan’s land mass was underwater, 20 million were affected or displaced and nearly 2,000 died — had many media commentators questioning why the mainstream media ignored the story. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen again.