HAMNET Report 21st May 2023

In a report back from GDACS about Tropical Cyclone Mocha last weekend, I learned that, across all the affected states in Myanmar, at least 54 fatalities were reported; there were around 700 people with injuries, approximately 100,000 evacuees and 5.4 million persons affected by the storm.

The worst affected area was western Rakhine, which included several Rohingya Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, which have been significantly damaged. In Chin, over 1,200 houses were partially or completely destroyed. Approximately 50 damaged houses were reported across Sagaing. Severe flooding affected more than 100,000 people in villages in Magway and Sagaing.

In Bangladesh, the UN reports, as of 15th May, nearly 430,000 affected people, over 2,000 destroyed houses and more than 10,600 damaged houses across the Chattogram Division. Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area were severely affected.

This week, parts of northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region received half their average annual rainfall in just 36 hours. TheGuardian.com says that rivers burst their banks and thousands of acres of farmland lie submerged. By Thursday evening, an estimated 20,000 people had been left homeless and 13 were confirmed dead.

This is just the latest weather disaster to hit the country. Six months ago, 12 people died on the southern island of Ischia in a landslide triggered by torrential rain. Eleven more were killed last September by flash floods in the central region of Marche.

Across Europe, as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increase, so too does extreme weather – consecutive years of drought have afflicted farmers in Spain and southern France, while last year there were unprecedented heatwaves across the continent.

“Climate change is here and we are living the consequences. It isn’t some remote prospect, it is the new normal,” Paola Pino d’Astore, an expert at the Italian Society of Environmental Geology (SIGEA), told Reuters.

Experts say Italy’s geography makes it particularly vulnerable to climate disasters: its varied geology makes it prone to floods and landslides, while rapidly warming seas on either side make it vulnerable to increasingly powerful storms, amid rising temperatures.

The frontlines of the climate crisis have hitherto been in the global south, leading to the oft-repeated refrain that those least responsible for the climate crisis are facing the worst effects. But for Italy now, and probably soon the rest of Europe, the enemy is at the gates.

Curiously, and coincidentally, while the search was on in Division 6 for a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that had been activated about 2 weeks ago, a similar scenario was developing in the Western Cape.

Michael ZS1MJT, our Regional Director for HAMNET writes (and I quote):

“On Thursday evening, HAMNET WC was alerted by the ARCC to an emergency PLB beacon which had been activated in the Hermanus area.

“No reports of any vessel or aircraft had been received as missing or in distress.

“The PLB was sending GPS coordinates of its position via satellite, and this was received by the MRCC and ARCC. These coordinates were relayed to me, and I plotted them, triangulating the best possible position of this device. Initial coordinates were pretty much over a vast area and we determined that this unit was most likely in an informal settlement. This was monitored through the night and it seemed that the device became mobile on Friday morning, heading in to Hermanus and then back towards the informal settlement.

“On Saturday morning, HAMNET WC was requested (by ARCC and MRCC) to locate the PLB, find the reason for its activation, and switch it off.

Sybrand, ZS1L (Deputy Regional Director) and I, left Gordon’s Bay just after 09h00 and arrived in Hermanus at 10h30.

“We met with Sean, a paraglider from the area who has a good knowledge of the area. The three of us set off with the idea of getting bearings of the PLB. This proved easy as the signal was quite good and strong, but also challenging to get around building complexes so we could get a decent line of sight of the basic direction of the device, as we did not want to get any reflections from these buildings.

“We ended up in the area close to an informal settlement where the PLB was signalling its GPS coordinates. We entered the settlement, escorted by SAPS and Law Enforcement, following the signal in-between the tin structures. As we got deeper in the settlement, the signal became stronger. The reflection of the signal off the structures made this search interesting, making us try various methods to discard the reflected signals and only follow where our equipment showed as directly from the device.

“Perseverance prevailed and we eventually located the PLB device at 14h05 attached under the corner of a roof of one of the structures.

“The antenna had been inserted under the roof sheet and the GPS module was facing other steel structures, which caused a lot of signal reflection, for both the GPS and location signals transmitted.

“After some study of our route and tracking, it became clear that the device was found approximately 120m from where we had triangulated to, and 70m from where one of the GPS coordinates had indicated.

“I would like to thank ARCC, MRCC, SAPS, Law Enforcement, and the community for all their assistance in tracking down the device. It was a pleasure working with you all.”

Thank you, Michael, for the report. The value of practising at fox-hunting is again made more pertinent.

Finally, an amazing story has come out of the Amazon Jungle, where Colombian Armed Forces have spent more than 2 weeks searching for 4 juvenile survivors of a plane crash, which killed their mother and two other adults.

The four children, aged 13, 9, 4 and 11 months, had wandered through the jungle together, surviving I know not how, but leaving a trail of small objects such as hair scrunchies, plastic wrappings and a baby bottle which made it possible for the authorities to follow their trail. The Colombian Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement earlier that they had even found a “shelter built in an improvised way with sticks and leaves.”

There is conflictual reporting as to whether the children have now indeed been found. Al Jazeera was quoted yesterday as saying photographic evidence was not yet available, because they were still on a boat coming down the river. I’m sure there will be a movie eventually made of this story, and I am equally sure that the oldest survivor, the 13 year-old, will turn out to be a girl. Only a girl at that age would have kept her head and held the group together!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.