Africa Travel Week
natural disasters

When COVID-19 and natural disasters combine

Understandably, COVID-19 has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year. The virus has swept through the world, and changed all of our lives completely. If that’s not stressful enough, however, we still have the usual range of natural disasters to contend with. Unfortunately, they haven’t gone away – and together with COVID-19 they are a worrying combination, writes Ross Hansen.

Emergency response

In the event of a large spike in COVID-19 infections, emergency response capabilities would already be overwhelmed. If another natural disaster were to strike at the same time, it would be catastrophic.

Response times would be delayed, and greater casualties would be the result. During the initial spike in COVID-19 in early 2020, many countries were operating at full ICU capacity – and there is reason to believe that countries such as Italy experienced higher mortality rates due to shortages in this area.

Any greater demands on an already overwhelmed ICU capacity would see a similar increase in avoidable mortality, as it simply would not be possible to give everyone the specialist care they need. Government budgets are already stretched to breaking point by COVID-19, and so there is little room for manoeuvre to deal with extra natural disasters on top of this.

Communities that are hit by natural disasters would also, of course, be less able to practise social distancing. Without homes to go to, there’s the added danger that COVID-19 outbreaks will occur in these tightly packed communities – intensifying the already devastating effects of the initial disaster.

As well as the initial human impact of a natural disaster and COVID-19, there will be longer term economic implications for the countries affected – bringing further difficulties for its people in the future, too.

The cost to tourism

According to UNWTO, COVID-19 has already cost the tourism industry $320 billion in the first five months of this year – with 300 million fewer tourists compared to 2019. With international travel restricted by many countries, and consumer anxiety still high even once these rules are lifted, airlines and hotels have been struggling. For countries which are especially dependent on tourism, COVID-19 has been a serious problem for the economy.

Adding a natural disaster into the mix would make this already desperate situation even worse. As well as the damage to people’s lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure brought about by the event itself, tourists will be even less likely to visit in future. According to research, 10% of international travellers are concerned about falling ill when abroad even in normal times.

Climate change inertia

A wider concern is that COVID-19 is detracting from long-term efforts to deal with climate change – making natural disasters more frequent and severe in the future.

Governments are stretched to the limit dealing with COVID-19 as it is, and budgets are tighter than ever before. With the global economy sliding into recession, there may not be the political will to embark on costly climate change measures.

Scientists warn that, without meaningful action to combat climate change, we are likely to see more frequent and extreme natural disasters in the coming years. In the last 30 years, for example, the number of disasters related to climate change has tripled. By failing to act now, governments are storing more trouble for the future.

COVID-19 may continue to have a knock-on effect for years to come, then – contributing to even more natural disasters in the future due to its devastating impact on the world’s economy.

A real threat

The combination of natural disasters with COVID-19 is a danger that governments need to be acutely aware of. In isolation, both are already devastating – and when they are combined they have the potential to exacerbate the situation even further, wreaking havoc both now and in the future.

Ross Hansen

Ross Hansen is a freelance researcher and content designer from Berkshire. He specializes in producing in-depth studies, infographics, virtual graphics on mental health, business, travel, and technology. Currently, he is in his final years in MA research paper on the effects of the global pandemic and natural disasters in tourism.