Has 2020 Been the Toughest Year Yet?
Varsha Saini | On 09, Nov 2020
The entire world has felt the devastating impact of COVID-19, and many people have suffered not only from the virus itself but also the long term ramifications of going into lockdown. Mental health issues are on the rise, the economy is taking a beating, and our way of life seems set to change irrevocably.
If it wasn’t bad enough to be battling a new deadly virus, 2020 has also seen several natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms, wildfires, and record high temperatures – making the reality of climate change impossible to ignore.
The COVID-19 global pandemic made the world stand still in 2020 – no one was safe, and the world will feel the impact for years to come. Reports of the virus first started making headlines in January where a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 had appeared in Wuhan, China. The country locked down in the same month, but by then it was too late, and the virus had already spread. Many countries followed suit, locking down in March and April. Since then, the virus has caused widespread deaths, and economic pandemonium as countries try to battle the deadly virus.
The Impact of Coronavirus in Australia
With over 25 thousand people out of the 27-odd thousand cases of COVID-19 recovering, and only 900 deaths due to the virus, in Australia; it seems as though the country is managing the virus better than some. But, it’s a different story when it comes to the impact of Coronavirus on the nation’s economy.
In the past, Australia’s economy has always been quite strong. However, just like many other countries, the pandemic has forced many shops, restaurants, and businesses to close, causing widespread unemployment.
Within a week of the pandemic, one million Australians lost their jobs, and now around 7% of the population is unemployed. This is expected to continue to rise, getting closer to 10% by early 2021. In an effort to support businesses and protect them from financial collapse, the government has given aid to the tune of $2 billion, which is around 10% of the nation’s income.
The Impact of COVID in India
India and Australia are very different countries in many ways. Yet, they are intrinsically tied through trade and also due to the large Indian expat communities living down-under. Unfortunately, unlike Australia, India has incredibly high numbers of Coronavirus – currently, it has the second-highest number in the world with over 8 million cases. Sadly, over 123 thousand people have lost their lives in India to the virus – that’s over 130 times more than Australia.
India’s economy, whilst slowly growing over time, was already struggling before lockdown. Now, with millions out of work and unable to access government welfare and food due to gaps in the system, poverty is rampant. It is estimated that a further 100 million people in India will soon fall below the poverty line.
Women have also been hit disproportionately harshly by the lockdowns in India, as 95% of women who work do so in the industries that have been most impacted by the restrictions. Recent tests of people in Delhi also showed women to be at higher risk of contracting the virus. Antibody tests to show the numbers of people who have had the virus found that 32.2% of women had antibodies compared to 28.3% of men. Researchers are unsure as to why this is.
Unable to Get Home – People Stranded Abroad Due to COVID
17.5 million Indians live abroad, making them one of the worlds largest expat communities. One area that is home to many Indian natives is Australia. Having flown to India to visit family, study, or for work, many have found themselves stranded there due to the pandemic, unable to fly back home. Over 4,500 Indian expats are currently stranded in India unable to return to Australia due to both countries lockdowns and travel bans.
Because of this, many families have been separated for months. Including many parents and their children. One woman found herself in every parent’s nightmare when she was almost five thousand miles away from her child. Swetha Maram took her 20-month-old daughter to India to visit her parents before returning to Melbourne for work, planning to return shortly with her other child. Unfortunately, before she could return to India, the country went into lockdown, banning all travel. She realised it would be impossible to get her baby back to her in Australia. So, she decided to go to India, knowing she would be stranded there. Maram is now one of many people in India who are separated from family (in her case, her husband and son) with no idea of when they will be reunited.
It isn’t just one-way either, while many are desperate to return to Australia, some are also stranded there trying to return home to India. Since India closed its borders in March, nearly 1000 Indian nationals were left stuck in Australia.
With many countries in Europe and elsewhere going into further lockdowns, the future is still uncertain for the thousands of people stuck in a foreign country unable to return home.
Disastrous Weather a Sign of Climate Change
Coronavirus has so dominated the news that it is no small wonder that many other world events have seemingly passed by unnoticed. Many are not only struggling with the physical, emotional, and financial ramifications of the pandemic, but also devastating weather events.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent looked into the figures of people not only impacted by Coronavirus but also by natural disasters. They found that:
- Wildfires and COVID-19 impacted 2.3 million people in 2020.
- 51.6 million people were affected by droughts, storms or floods and COVID-19 in 2020.
- 431.7 million people were facing extreme heat and COVID-19 whilst in vulnerable positions.
With floods in Africa, bushfires in Australia and California, heatwaves in Europe, and fires in Siberia; as well as many other floods, hurricanes, tropical storms and fires worldwide. Climate change is having a dramatic impact on our weather.
Scientists say the recent heatwaves are directly linked to global warming. Death Valley, California, reached a world record high this year with a temperature of 54.4C. Supposedly although these sort of heatwaves would naturally occur, human input has directly caused a 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit increase. Remarkably even notoriously cold Siberia has experienced record high temperatures (reaching 38 degrees Celsius, or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) – something many scientists claim to be caused by human intervention. This heating of Siberia was something scientists envisioned 10/20-years ago as a worst-case scenario. Because Siberia is usually one of the worlds coldest places in winter and only reaches typically around 20C, it is especially troublesome how warm it got in 2020.
The increase in temperatures also means the Arctic ice is continuing to melt. It reached the second-lowest amount of sea ice coverage of all time in 2020.
All of these factors are creating weather conditions that lead to at least a 30% increase in the chances of further bushfires like the ones that ravaged Australia in early 2020. The bushfires killed an estimated 1 billion animals, destroyed more than 1,400 homes and charred more than 20% of the country’s forests. The fires were so big that the smoke circled the entire globe and rose higher into the atmosphere than ever before.
America has also experienced record wildfires with four million acres being burned in California – more than double the previous record.
The increase in temperatures and melting ice-caps also means we are experiencing flooding, tropical storms, hurricanes and cyclones.
Floods, Storms, Hurricanes and Cyclones
Previously, it was predicted that cyclones would become fewer but more intense. Yet, 2020 is proving this theory wrong as we have experienced many more storms than usual this year. Each year there are 21 groups of letters from the alphabet to name hurricanes after. This year, for only the second time on record, meteorologists have already run out of names and are on to the Greek alphabet. September also had the record for the most named storms in one month (10) in the Atlantic.
Because of the rising sea levels from global warming, many countries have experienced horrendous flooding. As if the people of India didn’t have enough to worry about with having the second-highest COVID-19 infection rate; they have also experienced many severe floods. Millions of people have been impacted by several floods in India this year, with the worst one affecting more than 17 million people from June to August.
Now, going into 2021, the extreme weather doesn’t seem to stop. The Philippines experienced Typhoon Goni, the most powerful typhoon of 2020, which caused more than 1 million people to be evacuated from their homes. Will 2021 be any better, that remains to be seen.