Ecological disasters are one of the major disasters of planet Earth. They have a disastrous impact on the environment and ecology and also on its inhabitants. Ecological disasters underscore the need to understand natural disasters in relation to a changing global climate. Understanding the scope and pattern of these effects can help to improve intervention effectiveness. Disasters are catastrophic events that overwhelm a local community’s coping resources. Natural or man-made ecological disasters are both possible. Let’s take a look at some of the ecological disasters.
Ecological Disasters of the World
Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
Beginning in 1912 with reports of Itai-itai illness, a painful skin and bone disorder, Japan’s mishandling of industrial waste resulted in periodic outbreaks of deadly diseases. The Mitsui Mining & Smelting Company is being held responsible for dumping cadmium into the Jinzu River. Two versions of Minamata disease, which led to paralysis and death, broke out in 1956 and 1965. This was after Chisso Corporation and Showa Denko K.K. dumped methyl mercury into local water supplies. 1956 saw the outbreak of Yokkaichi asthma. The Yokkaichi Kombinato’s petrochemical processing facilities and refineries were found responsible. District courts found Chisso and Showa Denko completely guilty of Minamata’s sickness in 1971 and 1973, and awarded millions of dollars in damages. Similar decisions took place for subsequent other disorders too.
Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta
Since commercial oil production began in the Niger Delta in 1958, an estimated nine to thirteen million barrels of oil [PDF] have been spilled. These are primarily from oil operations jointly owned by Shell and the Nigerian government. It makes Delta one of the world’s most contaminated locations. Militants kidnapped and killed oil workers, blew up pipelines, and stole oil due to civil unrest about how the government shares oil income. Subsequently, unrest erupted in Nigeria as a result of substantial damage to fisheries, water and soil quality. Four Nigerian farmers filed a lawsuit against Shell in a Dutch court in 2008, but the court denied the majority of their claims. Shell claims that operations breakdowns account for only a small percentage of the spills. The firm agreed to settle a lawsuit that accuses it of cooperating with the government in the 1995 murders of six protestors in 2009.
Oil Dump in the Amazon Rainforest
Over the course of nearly thirty years, oil operations in the Amazon Rainforest have dumped more than 400 million barrels of hazardous oil waste into watersheds. This has led to widespread health problems. Indigenous tribes sued US courts for clean damages, but the case got transferred to Ecuadorian courts at Chevron’s request. Chevron claims that Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company with which it cooperated during that time, is to blame for the environmental harm. On February 2011, Ecuador’s Supreme Court ordered Chevron to pay $8.6 billion in penalties, plus an additional $9 billion if the company does not apologize. Chevron appealed the decision. In 2018, a panel controlled by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in Chevron’s favour, claiming that the Supreme Court verdict in 2011 was the product of fraud, bribery, and corruption. Chevron’s damages are still being determined by the court.
Peru Watershed Degradation
An estimated nine billion barrels of oil effluent are dumped into Amazonian watersheds each year.It causes inexplicable infections, tumours, skin disorders, and miscarriages for Peru’s indigenous Achuar people inhabiting there. In 2007, the Achuar community filed a lawsuit in the United States against Occidental Petroleum, a company based in the United States. It was for environmental and health damage caused by pollution. Plaintiffs claim that the firm violated US, Peruvian, and international law by failing to follow industry standards. According to Occidental, there is no indication of negative health impacts. In 2015, both sides made a settlement outside court.
Mine War in Papua New Guinea
Residents of Bougainville Island claimed that the copper mine of Rio Tinto’s Panguna, which is one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, is rapidly causing widespread environmental damage. According to environmental activists, over one billion tonnes of mining waste containing sulphur, arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium, and mercury are dumped into local river systems. This led to a forty-mile section of the system turning biologically dead. Residents of Bougainville launched a decade-long uprising against the government in 1989 as a result of unresolved complaints. They used the Alien Tort Lawsuits Act to challenge Rio Tinto in federal court in the United States in 2000. Rio Tinto stated that the charges in the lawsuit were untrue and defamatory. Though the mine is closed, the government of Bougainville termed it as un-revivable.
Ecological Disasters of the World
Dioxin Cloud In Italy
In a chemical factory accident, a dioxin cloud near Seveso, Italy, sickened at least 2,000 people. It also led to the slaughter of 80,000 animals to prevent the poison from entering the food chain. Following a settlement in 1980, five employees of the plant named Givaudan, were criminally investigated and found guilty, and the corporation was ordered to pay 20 billion lire (approximately $13 million) in compensation. The catastrophe also prompted Europe to pass the Seveso Directive in 1982, which governs the manufacture and storage of hazardous products.
Amoco Cadiz Tanker Spill
A tanker carrying Amoco spilled an estimated two million barrels of oil off the coast of France, damaging nearly 200 miles of shoreline and endangering wildlife. The accident occurred just a month after signatories to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) met to discuss tightening safety regulations for tankers. A US district judge ordered Amoco to pay $200 million in cleanup costs in response to a lawsuit filed by the French government, businesses, and private citizens. The MARPOL agreement was ratified by a sufficient number of countries in 1982, and the new international tanker rules came into force a year later. However, it is unclear about the impact the incident had on ratification.
Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
A reactor explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine in 1986 still clouds the future of nuclear power around the world. The Chernobyl disaster killed thirty-one people directly, though WHO estimates of the long-term mortality toll range from five thousand to ninety thousand. The catastrophe resulted to almost 110 nations signing the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Catastrophe, which requires notification of any potential cross-border nuclear accident.
Bhopal Cyanide Gas Leak
A methyl isocyanate gas leak from a Union Carbide chemical facility in Bhopal, India, killed at least 4,000 people. It also sickened an estimated half-million people, and left survivors with various health problems, including blindness, chronic respiratory problems, and birth deformities. The Indian government accepted$470 million compensation from Union Carbide in 1989, which the victims claim is insufficient. New Delhi later requested that the company’s CEO be extradited to the United States for criminal prosecution, but Washington refused. The CEO later died in 2014. Victims in India are still fighting for compensation. Following the tragedy, the Indian government enacted legislation to handle industrial accidents, including the Environment Protection Act of 1986 and the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
The Exxon Shipping Company–owned Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, off the Alaskan coast, after striking a reef. The spill polluted 1,300 miles of coastline, killing 250,000 seabirds, 3,000 sea otters, and 250 bald eagles, and destroyed billions of salmon eggs in a major blow to Alaska’s fishing industry. In a response to global concern, the United States Congress passed new legislation to regulate the shipping industry. It includes the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which increases penalties for oil spills, establishes vessel construction requirements, and requires all tankers operating in US waters to be double-hulled.
Ecological Disasters of the World
Cyanide Spill in Romania
The Romanian gold mine Baia Mare spilled almost 34 million gallons of cyanide into the Lupes, Somes, Tisza, and Danube rivers. The leak devastated aquatic and plant life for dozens of miles, damaging local fishing industries and preventing populations of Serbia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria from accessing potable water for several months. Hungary sued the mining corporation Aurul, a joint Australian-Romanian business, for almost $200 million in fisheries damages in 2001. Although mining resumed a few months after the event, a European Union judge banned mining on 85 percent of the site pending further inquiry in 2005. Efforts in Romania to prohibit the use of cyanide in mining have been repeatedly thwarted. The European Parliament considered banning cyanide usage in mining across the EU in 2010. However, the European Commission never implements the restriction.
Toxic Waste Dumping on Ivory Coast
Trafigura, a Dutch oil dealer, carried 400 tonnes of toxic garbage containing caustic soda and petroleum residue from Amsterdam to Abidjan and dumped it into the Ivorian city’s waste system. The rubbish dumping has been linked to the deaths of seventeen people and the diseases of up to a hundred thousand people. Trafigura, however, denies any misconduct and blamed the event on a subcontractor. In 2007, the company agreed to pay the Ivorian government $195 million for cleanup and victim compensation. It paid another $45 million to thirty thousand victims who filed a lawsuit against the corporation in a British court in 2009, although it continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Eleven workers were killed and over five million barrels of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on a BP oil rig. The spill, which lasted nearly three months, caused an estimated $17.2 billion in damage to beaches, animals, fisheries, and tourism in the United States. President Barack Obama’s administration pressured BP to set up a $20 billion fund to cover losses and cleaning costs. It also imposed a six-month moratorium on deep water oil exploration and established a panel to investigate the disaster. The administration implemented new drilling rules in response to the commission’s recommendations, albeit many of them were eventually repealed by Donald J. Trump’s administration.
Record wildfires in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest have heightened concerns about deforestation and Amazon development. Fires occur mostly from agricultural sources, although they occasionally escape their intended borders. Wildfires are expected to be exceptionally severe over time, with over 80,000 fires registered and more than three million hectares destroyed in the last few years. Many analysts attribute much of the deforestation to the beef and soy industries. Estimates also suggest cattle ranching is responsible for up to 80% of rainforest destruction after investigations linked some of its suppliers to illegal deforestation. Brazilian company JBS S.A., the world’s largest meat processor, pledged to reform its cattle-purchasing methods.
Dust Bowl in the United States
The Dust Bowl was a period of time in the United States when farmers indulged in market-driven agricultural practices like ploughing the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains and monoculture farming. This resulted in one of the most devastating ecological events in the country’s history. Drought conditions and devastated cropland generated catastrophic dust storms between 1930 and 1940, with some exceeding 10,000 feet in the sky and being dubbed “Black Blizzards.” An estimated 2.5 million people were displaced. The disaster also exacerbated the Great Depression, resulting in what has been dubbed the country’s “most difficult period.”
Ecological Disasters of the World
Poison in Minamata Bay
The Chisso Corporation of Japan dumped industrial wastewater with high quantities of mercury into the sea around Minamata. The mercury poisoned the marine food chain, causing thousands of people to become ill and leading to the discovery of Chisso-Minamata Disease. It is a new neurological illness and an additional 1,700 individuals perished as a result of the condition. The victims suffered from convulsions, blindness, hearing loss, paralysis, coma, and death.
Around 40,000 people lost their jobs when the cod population collapsed in the usually plentiful waters around Newfoundland in 1992. This drastically affects the region’s marine ecosystem. Fishing stocks from Iceland to Chile are currently overfished and in decline. Overall, the world’s oceans are being driven to the brink of ecological collapse. Declining fish populations harm not only the sea’s great predators, but also the economy and livelihoods of humans.
Global warming is induced by growing greenhouse gas emissions and resource overexploitation. The first climate change conference was conducted in 1963, and it was attended by a growing number of people. Scientists are regularly raising red flags warning us to stop unchecked consumption of fossil fuels. The planet is at a critical threshold where there will be a time when no one will be able to counter the crisis.
Lake Victoria Ecosystem Damage
Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, is in the midst of a perfect storm of environmental crises. It sees sewage pollution, overfishing, a plague of water hyacinth plants, and enormous algal blooms that destroy flora and fauna. Furthermore, the lake’s edge is receding by up to 150 feet in certain spots. Lake Victoria sustains the livelihoods and subsistence of forty million Africans in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, making it one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.
Ecological disasters not only harm nature but also the thousands of inhabitants and humans alike who depend on the ecosystem. It is crucial, especially in the present day world, that people value the importance of ecology and protect it for the future.