A Catastrophic Combination: Climate Change and the Coronavirus



A man looks out as waves hit a breakwater at Kasimedu fishing harbour in Chennai on May 19, 2020, as Cyclone Amphan barrels towards India’s eastern coast. – Millions of people were being moved to safety on May 19 as one of the fiercest cyclones in decades barrelled towards India and Bangladesh, with evacuation plans complicated by coronavirus precautions. Both countries are under various stages of lockdown because of the disease, with infections still surging. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Christopher Owen

This past week many natural disasters occurred to remind us that in addition to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which has taken over 345,000 lives worldwide, climate change remains an ongoing threat. Because of global warming, we have more frequent and severe weather events as sea levels rise, mountains glaciers shrink and ice continues to melt in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic. All of these unpredictable extreme weather events are threatening mankind, especially the poorer nations. In India and Bangladesh, a terrifying cyclone carved its way through the countries, in the Western United States heavy rains led to the rupture of two damns and flooding and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that beginning in June, the 2020 Hurricane Season in the Atlantic could bring some of the most destructive hurricanes ever recorded. Many other disasters happened earlier this year as well, including heatwaves in Europe and South Asia, wildfires from the western United States to Australia to Europe, and a scarcity of water in Southern Africa and South America. 


The catastrophic combination of the pandemic and recent natural disasters has left millions of people in India and Bangladesh in great distress. The pouring rain and high winds from Cyclone Amphan destroyed crops that were intended to feed communities up until the next growing season and people were already relying on food aid. As Pankaj Anand, a director at Oxfam India put it, “People have nothing to fall back on.” And because of climate change, many can no longer make a living farming and fishing like their ancestors had done. In India, standard relief procedures were not possible since most of them involved evacuating to safe locations or being rescued by emergency workers. Because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus, this did not take place. In rural Bangladesh, rescue efforts were limited as the cyclone broke through embankments, seawater consumed paddy fields and mud and thatch homes collapsed.


In Eastern Africa, locust infestations have swept across and devastated expansive areas of farmland, threatening food supplies. Locusts can fly over 80 miles a day in swarms of 80 million insects, consuming the same amount of food as 35,000 people. Scientists believe that unusually heavy rainfalls last year caused by the warming of the Indian Ocean created suitable conditions for the breeding and growth of these locusts. Locust outbreaks are expected to become more frequent and severe because of climate change. This is terrible given that the coronavirus has just arrived in the region. Poorer countries impacted by natural disasters stemming from climate change face tremendous challenges.


Climate change, alongside the pandemic, continues to ravage the planet. Severe weather events have been more catastrophic than ever and add another level of complication and risks to those already facing the coronavirus.