Three facts and three photos about extreme weather in 2012

Richard Casson

Blog post by Richard Casson

Oxfam Great Britain, Digital Campaigner
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As UN climate talks continue in Qatar this week, here's a look at some of what made 2012 another year of extreme weather, with impacts often seen on the food we eat and the farmers who grow it around the world. 

FACT: June 2012 was the 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average

This fact comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – and what this fact tells us is that you've got to go back to 1985 to find the last below-average temperature month. As scientists have argued, the chances of such a run of high temperatures occurring naturally are vanishingly small.

PHOTO: In 2010 Pakistan was hit by its worst natural disaster in living memory. Floodwater inundated up to one fifth of the country, with 8.4 million acres of crops lost and an estimated 20 million people affected. This year, floods returned once again – putting millions of people at renewed risk of disease and malnutrition.

Flood victims use a cable car in Chakdara, Pakistan. (Credit: EPD / Hammad Khan Farooqi)

FACT: Research launched this year found droughts that hit Russia and Texas in 2010 and 2011 respectively were made much more likely because of global warming

Though these droughts didn't happen in 2012, I've included them because research this year found the Texas drought was 20 times more likely to occur than in the 1960s. And the Russian droughts, which devastated grain harvests in one of the world's bread baskets, helped drive a year of record world wheat prices, which in turn had a knock-on effect in poor countries such as Yemen and across North Africa. A summary of this research makes for fascinating reading.

PHOTO: Widespread drought – first in the Horn of Africa, and then later in the Sahel – led to food crises that made international headlines. And although donations from governments and from the public raised more than $4 billion, climate change could make the cost of responding to similar disasters even higher in the future.

Wheeling jerrycans of water in Somaliland. (Photo credit: Alun McDonald / Oxfam)

FACT: At its height, the dry weather in North America this year caused drought across more than half of continental US

Drought in the US has hit farmers hard this year. But unlike many farmers in the US, their counterparts in developing countries don't have insurance schemes to cushion the blow or have access to drought-resilient crops.

PHOTO: Though the world's attention focused on New York during Sandy, the same hurricane also hit Haiti – a country still suffering the effect of a massive earthquake two years ago – leaving more than fifty people dead, another 200,000 homeless and destroying approximately 90,500 hectares of agricultural land and crops.

Flooded streets and destruction in Haiti. (Photo credit: Welthungerhilfe-German Agro Action / Flickr.com)

So 2012 has been another year of turbulent weather, which has again played havoc with farmers and our food around the world. Although not every extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change, scientists are getting better at showing how some events were made much more likely or more severe because of a warming world. As the world continues to warm up, extreme weather is becoming a new norm, and without urgent action to cut emissions and invest in measures to help those most at risk to adapt, the cost of dealing with the clean up looks set to grow.

Related links

Check out this little graphic which shows in clear terms the cost of extreme weather.

Read the Oxfam report: Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world

Join the GROW Campaign to ensure we all have enough to eat, always.