Natural disasters overwhelm Asia in 2015

This year Asia witnessed several different natural disasters, historic elections, as well as refugee crises forcing Muslim Rohingya minority to risk their lives at sea

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jan 21, 2016

2015 kicked off in Asia with a catastrophic earthquake in Nepal that claimed thousands of lives, as floods and typhoons across the continent hit one place after another throughout the year. Myanmar marked a historic election after years of military domination, but failed to deal with the crisis over the persecution of the Rohingya that caused many from the Muslim minority group to flee to other Asian nations. The United States hit an Afghan hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) with an air strike in what American military leaders called an accident, though the humanitarian group labelled the incident a "war crime". China was rocked by two massive explosions considered to be the worst industrial disaster that has struck the country in years.

Nepal earthquake

Asia’s first major incident of 2015 was the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, in which over 9,000 people lost their lives and more than 20,000 were injured. A 7.8 magnitude, this was the biggest quake to strike the South Asian nation in the past 81 years. Its epicentre lay from the Gorkha district to the neighbouring Lamjung in Kathmandu, as dozens of aftershocks occurred in the following days.

The UN said in May that 8 million people across Nepal’s Western and Central Regions were affected by the disaster. 2.8 million people were displaced as entire villages were destroyed across the country in many districts.

The quake left 3.5 million people in need of food assistance and prompted an international relief and rescue effort.

A second earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 shook the Himalayan nation on May 12 in a major aftershock.

Floods, typhoons across Asia

Devastating flash floods triggered by heavy rain and typhoons left hundreds of people dead and millions of people homeless across Asia in 2015. The worst affected areas were and still are the Southeast Asian nations.

This year’s floods in India and Myanmar are considered to be the worst in decades, according to weather bureaus and aid organisations.

There have been 280 confirmed deaths in the Indian city of Chennai caused by floods since November 9.

Following weeks of hard torrential rains - worsened by Cyclone Komen - in neighbouring Myanmar, state media reported on August 10 the death toll caused by flooding had topped 100.

Myanmar elections

Following a series of political reforms between 2011-2015, on November 8 Myanmar finally held its first free general elections in 25 years, ending decades of military rule in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), won an absolute majority of seats against its strongest opponent, the governing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by President Thein Sein.

The victory for Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, comes after years of house arrest and the annulment of the 1990 elections by the military government, which the NLD had also won.

Despite her triumph, Suu Kyi cannot become president, due to an article in the army-written constitution that forbids those with foreign children from gaining the title.

Although the elections were described as "democratic," there were over 1 million Rohingya Muslims who were barred from casting ballots.

The Rohingya face increasing persecution from Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and are forced to live in camps on the outskirts of Rakhine state’s capital of Sittwe.

Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya drew international attention in May 2015, after the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported thousands of them, along with Bangladeshis, were stranded in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Also dubbed as the "boat people," the asylum seekers risked their lives trying to reach Southeast Asian countries with unsafe boats, fleeing persecution in Myanmar or grinding poverty in Bangladesh.

According to the UNHCR, 25,000 people have been smuggled on boats from January to March this year by human smugglers, as it estimates that 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015 due to starvation, dehydration or abuse by boat crews.

In May and August, Thai and Malaysian authorities found mass graves - containing hundreds of bodies - which they believed to be the remains of human trafficking victims, near illegal detention camps close to the two countries' borders.

In June, Australian and Indonesian media reported that Australian Navy and Border Force officials had paid human smugglers thousands of dollars to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers to Indonesia, though senior ministers denied the accusations.

US strikes Kunduz hospital

On October 3, a hospital operated by medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was hit and partially destroyed by a US air strike in the Afghan city of Kunduz, killing at least 30 people and injuring 37 more, including MSF staff members.

US President Barack Obama apologised for the attack, after the top American commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell said the incident was an "accident."

Initially, a US military spokesman had claimed the strike was carried out against "individuals threatening the force," but later Campbell told reporters the air strike was requested by Afghan forces asking for support on Taliban positions.

MSF denounced Campbell’s announcement and accused the United States of commiting war crimes.

Afghan and US forces launched operations against the Taliban on September 29, a day after the group captured the northern city of Kunduz.

Afghan government troops retook most of the city after a few days, but the fighting continued two weeks until the group announced it had pulled back.

Tianjin blasts

In 2015 Asia also experienced one of its worst industrial disasters in years. On August 12, a massive double explosion at a chemical warehouse in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin left 173 people dead and hundreds more injured.

The consecutive blasts forced more than 6,000 people out of their homes.

Investigations into the explosions revealed the warehouses were located closer to homes than permitted, and stored much more dangerous and toxic chemicals than authorised.

Following the blasts, China formally detained 12 people and accused 11 officials of neglecting their duties and one of them of abuse of power.

TRTWorld and agencies