Conflict Alerts # 589, 9 February 2023
In the news
On 5 February, Chile declared a state of emergency in the Biobio, Nuble, and Araucania regions, due to wildfires that swept across the regions, killing more than 23 people. An official briefing held that 1,100 people had been relocated, and 979 were injured in the fires. The fires engulfed 6,67,000 acres of land, making it the second-largest fire in the country. On 4 February, President Gabriel Boric travelled to Nuble and Biobio to ensure relief in the affected areas.
On 5 February, Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Toha said: “Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out (the fires) that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse.” Meanwhile, South American countries, including Paraguay and Argentina, witnessed 40 degrees Celsius.
On 4 February, the National Weather Service (NWS) said Mount Washington in New Hampshire witnessed a wind chill of minus 78 Celsius. The agency said: “This is an epic, generational Arctic outbreak,” terming it the “lowest wind chills in decades or, in some cases, the lowest ever recorded.” Authorities advised residents from Manitoba to Maine to limit their time outdoors. Some places recorded frostquakes and splitting of trees due to the freezing of sap.
On 5 February, in Canada, Moncton recorded minus 28.1 degrees Celsius breaking a 1917 cold weather record of minus 27.8 degrees Celsius.
Issues at large
First, the complex meteorological conditions. The extreme cold in Canada and the US is attributed to an “Arctic blast.” According to the US National Weather Service, it is an Arctic outbreak which is “very cold air masses that typically originate in the Siberian Region of Asia, cross over the north pole into Canada and push south and east into the lower United States.” North and South America are witnessing extremely opposite temperatures at the same time.
Second, the impact of climate change. According to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report titled “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” such extreme events can be attributed to anthropogenic causes like climate change. Extreme weather events including wildfires, cyclones, and heatwaves have increased in frequency and intensity globally. The US and Canada have witnessed increased frequency in recent years of heatwaves, wildfires, cyclones, and droughts.
Third, the need for adaptation. An increase in the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events need efficient adaptation. Such events can impact health and food insecurity. Extreme hot and cold temperatures also impact wildlife. In Chile, wildfires have injured animals, including the world’s smallest deer treated in the rehabilitation centre.
First, the need for better preparedness. Extreme weather events are likely to increase multifold and therefore, countries must enhance their preparedness for such events and limit human and economic costs.
Second, the disparity between mitigation and adaptation. With climate change continuing to manifest extreme weather events, effective climate adaptation can significantly manage such events. Globally, climate mitigation measures dominate the climate action discourse and it is equally necessary to focus on adaptation measures in climate action plans. However, adaptation finance is a concern for developed and developing countries.
Third, the impact on vulnerable populations. Extreme cold temperatures and wildfires can adversely impact vulnerable populations, including women, children, and older people. The preparedness and response to such events should be inclusive of vulnerable sections.