Earthquakes, tornadoes, typhoons, and other natural disasters are bad enough, but things get worse when human actions lead to additional, preventable problems. The past century is wrought with countless man-made disasters including the Kuwaiti oil fires and the Derweze Door to Hell. Yet, none of these had quite the impact as the five worst — three of which are occurring or occurred in the last three years.
1) Bhopal Gas Tragedy, India:
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night in agonizing pain with your eyes and lungs burning. You wonder if you're going to make it. Many don't. That was the experience countless residents of Bhopal, India had on December 2, 1984 when the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant sprang a gas leak. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanine gas and other chemicals. Thousands of people died within the first hours of the leak, but estimates between 5,000 to upwards of 16,000 deaths resulted from the leak overall. This doesn't include other injuries survivors would endure such as blindness and organ failure. Without question, Bhopal is one of the world's worst industrial disasters.
2) Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico:
It's hard to forget the worst and largest oil spill in human history since it only happened less than three years ago. It started on April 20, 2010 when an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig killed 11 workers, injured 17 others, and left the well gushing oil. Originally, BP claimed the leak was just 1,000 barrels per day, concealing the reality that the well was leaking anywhere from 40,000 to 162,000 barrels a day. It took 47,829 people 89 days to finally cap the well, and the clean up is far from over. Though it's too early to know the full extent of the environmental impact the spill had, the Gulf fishing industry has yet to rebound, oil still washes ashore beaches along the coast, and the surrounding coral and wetlands are a long way from recovery. Meanwhile, 3,500 of workers and volunteers on the clean-up site are suffering liver and kidney damage from their exposure to the 1.8 million gallons of toxic oil dispersant.
3) Chernobyl Meltdown, Ukraine:
On April 26, 1986, Reactor No. 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. Fallout from the radiation was estimated to be higher than both atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 350,000 people were evacuated and resettled from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Meanwhile, it took 500,000 workers to end the meltdown, 31 whom died. This doesn't include the long-term health effects people suffered from their exposure to the radiation. Nearly 4,000 deaths so far have thought to be attributed to the radiation poisoning people living near Chernobyl acquired. To this day, no one is sure that what the final death toll from the meltdown will be, but Chernobyl became the first poster-child on the risks of nuclear power.
4) Fukushima Meltdown, Japan:
A 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011 created a tsunami that resulted in the damage of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — that had violated safety requirements. This led to the only other Level 7 nuclear meltdown besides Chernobyl. Over 100,000 were evacuated and displaced from the surrounding areas with 600 people dying during the evacuation. This only exacerbated the problems caused by the earthquake and tsunami. Three hundred cleanup workers received excessive exposure to radioactive waste including six workers who exceeded the lifetime radiation dose limits in the first few months after the cleanup began. It's premature to know what long-term health effects will result from the disaster, but it could be over 1,300 — including people as far away from the meltdown as North America. We do know that it will be at least decades before we know all of the complications resulting from the meltdown, and some are already arguing that this was worse than Chernobyl.
5) Global Warming, Third Planet from the Sun:
Global warming is one of the most overlooked and ongoing man-made disasters — one that will have the greatest long-term impact on humanity. Excessive amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, introduced into the atmosphere have increased average global temperatures forecasting a number of dire consequences. Impacts from rising sea levels, desertification, and damage from intense super storms like Hurricane Katrina have already created some of the first groups of climate-change refugees and some estimate that number to rise to 150 million by 2050. But even if you're skeptical of the science, the excessive amount of carbon made has released into the atmosphere has started a dangerous problem with ocean acidification. As the oceans absorb more carbon, it's turning into carbonic acid and decreasing dissolved oxygen concentration making some oceanic environments uninhabitable. With our own reliance on seafood, this in turn has threatened humanity's own ability to feed itself. Together tackling global warming and ocean acidification are the biggest challenges man has created for itself and most living creatures on the planet.