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Floods in Australia, mega-droughts elsewhere: extreme meteorological phenomena are increasingly frequent and generalised

On the occasion of the COP15 against desertification held in May in Ivory Coast, the UN published a new report that estimated that the duration of drought episodes has increased by 29% in barely twenty years. The impacts of the availability of water resources are very severe: this year, more than 2.3 billion people, i.e. a third of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages. In addition to the overall figures, the world’s press provides daily reports of material, economic and human dramas caused by the effects of climate change and the inadequacies of political responses to confront it up to now.


Australia, a laboratory of disruptions

Australia is on the front line of climate change: during the last fifteen years, it has recorded the ten hottest of its recent history. In 2022, a situation of too much water replaced that of drought, with severe floods recorded during the first six months in the east of the country. Record rainfall hit New South Wales and Queensland leading to floods and landslides on earth saturated with water. The human toll was heavy, with more than twenty deaths and tens of thousands of people evacuated from their homes in Sydney. The economic impact was also heavy, with an estimated cost of three billion Australian dollars (two billion euros).

This cascade of disasters has led to a new type of crisis, that of insurability linked to the soaring cost of insurance premiums, according to the climate defence group Climate Council in a report published at the beginning of May. Basically, 1 Australian household out of 25 could become non-insurable from now to 2030 according to the experts. And this ratio reaches 1 in 10 in certain regions particularly threatened like Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast. “We’re speaking about half a million properties, which is not inconsiderable”, says Nicki Hutley, co-author of the report and an economist on the Climate Council. As the number of extreme climatic events increases, insurance premiums become more expensive in areas at risk, and become inaccessible for a large part of the population.

During a visit to Lismore, where a levee had collapsed in February and floodwater poured into the town centre, the Australian Prime Minister declared that the country “was becoming difficult to live in due to these disasters“. Whatever the case, the traditional political parties gave little attention to the subject of the climate during the current electoral campaign.


While on the other continents the frequency of mega-droughts is speeding up

Elsewhere in the world, intense and lasting droughts are occurring. The following are several examples:

      • In Chile, the governor of the city of Santiago announced a water rationing plan on 11 April 2022, the result of an unprecedented twelve consecutive years of drought. This plan above all concerns consumers, with restrictions increasing progressively up to intermittent cut-offs of drinking water.

Again, in South America, the river Paraná was struck by a second historic low water level, the result of an extreme lack of rain. The continent’s second largest river has fallen to half its normal level at Rosario, jeopardising transport and fishing activities. This phenomenon also has severe impacts on fish and bird populations, which can neither feed nor breed in suitable conditions around the river.

In North America, more specifically in California, The Guardian reported that the metropolitan authorities of the south of the State had issued warnings about water shortages, restricting the use of water outside to once a week and encouraging the region’s 19 million inhabitants to reduce their consumption by 30%. According to the US Drought Monitor, more than a third of western America is currently undergoing an extreme drought. Municipal patrols are already imposing penalties on people found wasting water in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles.

In Tunisia, farmers are worried about the lack of water. The rains in March were welcomed with joy but failed to reduce the probability of water shortages in the months to come, as the dams were filled to only 50% of their capacity in this country marked by four consecutive years of drought.

Lastly, in Ethiopia, it hasn’t rained for 18 months in the east of the country, decimating herds and jeopardising the survival of the population, as in neighbouring Kenya and Somalia: between 5 and 6% of the population, i.e. about 6 million people, are in a situation of serious food insecurity in Ethiopia due to the drought. In East Africa, “since 2005, the frequency of droughts has doubled, changing from once every six years to once every three years”and “there have been several prolonged drought episodes, especially in the arid and semi-arid areas of the region in the last 30 years”, observed the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest report.

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