GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE – AN ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS AND NEED FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT

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Across the world, there is a rapid increase in urban living and an ever greater understanding of the consequences of Global Climate Change. Towns are experiencing warmer weather, hotter summers and delayed winters. Even, we can expect much greater changes in the decades ahead. This in addition to the increase of population day by day and with no specific control on the increasing population explosion, there is a fierce struggle for land and space. There is also an increase in the intake of food and water. So, all these factors lead to an increase in demand graph and supply chart seems to go down. This is a worrying fact for a city or town, which needs to survive this trouble times. Today, what Nature has given us for free is bought at a cost by humans due to depleting resources. 15 years back most of the people never thought of buying mineral water. They do now as fresh clean water is reducing these days with lots of added problems. Now agitations and war like scenario occurs only to get clean drinking water. Days are not far when we need to buy oxygen cylinders to breathe!

What seems now is feasible to implement policies which are already made giving importance to disaster management plans with innovations. Hence, we need to find some sustainable approach to keep a balance. The approach should be in areas concerning water, land, food and the air we breathe. All these are the basics of human survival. Let us take the example of water. It’s not the simple expansion of irrigation. It had an ecological and social dimension as well and was the key to rural transformation. Providing a limited but assured quantity of water to all urban households irrespective of their landholding is the key for water conservation. Now, to serve such dispersed need, the systems required had to be entirely different – technologically and socially. The population of the world tripled in the 20th century and now the use of renewable resources have grown six fold. Within the next fifty years the World population may increase by another 40%-50%. Now this population growth coupled with industrialization and urbanization will result in an increasing demand of water and will have serious consequences in the environment. Already there is more waste water generated and dispersed today than at any other time in the history of our planet: more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation, namely 2.6 billion people approximately (Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004). One must know that these figures represent only people with very poor conditions. In reality, these figures should be much higher.

Less availability of water leads to water stress. Water stress results from an imbalance between water use and water resources. Hence depleting resource leads to many tensions over neighbors, communities, districts, states and countries. So, it is a real fact that there is a water crisis today. “But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people – and the environment – suffer badly.” World Water Vision Report

This leads to issues with environmental sustainability and thus is a reason to environmental catastrophe. Environmental Calamity Management is a highly complex problem and has diverse manifestations. It is a phenomenon which affects people in different ways and is the result of social, cultural, economic and political factors. It is to be noted that all crises do not give rise to emergencies and the radical changes do not mean that it is always in negative.

Hence the vision of the policy makers needs to assist the vulnerable and poor people to bring about positive change and to support their capacity to withstand adverse changes that may affect their social and economic developments. The changes should be made after proper judgment as any changes for the vulnerable people or the communities may give rise to a crisis that may overpower their capacity to cope and hence is an uncalled emergency. Crisis is not only about this unexpected catastrophe but also the sum-up of this slow build-up of political, social, economic and environmental factors. Along with all these issues, there is a combination of unexpected incident such as cyclone, flood, earthquake, drought or any other type of major accidents, which would definitely add to these changes in a very negative way. Hence, it is critical that intervention addresses these issue and policies made accordingly.

Coming back to the fresh water crisis and with this current state of affairs, correcting measures still can be taken to avoid the crisis to be worsening. There is an increasing awareness that our freshwater resources are limited and need to be protected both in terms of quantity and quality. This water challenge affects not only the water community, but also decision-makers and every human being. “Water is everybody’s business” was one the key messages of the 2nd World Water Forum.

When the human population of an area is small, poor land use may affect only the people who are guilty of bad judgment. As the population increases, everyone suffers if land is improperly used because everyone eventually pays and often the case; everyone suffers a permanent loss of resources. A small example is if grasslands in low regions are plowed up and planted to wheat (poor land use), a “dust bowl” or temporary desert will sooner or later be a result. If the grass cover is maintained and moderately grazed (good land use), no dust bowl will likely to be developed. It is a general observance that good land use planning has come only after human has first destroyed or damaged a landscape. It is just as the saying goes that Human does not seem to understand a system which he did not build.

Some solutions to these environmental problems are:

  1. i) Cluster development: A cluster development of residential housing around village or town centers with each unit separated by broad green belts.
  2. ii) By retaining stream valleys, steep slopes, lakes, marshes, aquifer recharge areas, waste disposal areas free from houses, buildings, and other high density uses. Without such planning, there might be no open space, and which would lead to the same kind of urban blight, chronic pollution and social disorder that we now observe in older, unplanned cities.

Generally, the short term profits that can be made by exploiting urban land are so huge that it is difficult for people to foresee the socio-ecologic backlashes and overshoots that accompany uncontrolled growth.

With the increase in population, food supplies will reduce resulting in increasing prices.

In other words, the size and quality of the “environmental house” should be an important consideration and not the number of resources; we can relentlessly squeeze from the earth. A reasonable goal could be to stress on the fact that a third of all land could be under open space use. The dependence of a city on the countryside for all its vital resources (food, water and so on) and the dependence of the country on the city for economic resources become so widely recognized that the present political confrontation that exists between the rural and urban populations is eliminated.

Hence a variety of methods need to be taken to tackle climate change and its consequences and those initiatives should:

  1. a) Help to reduce global warming and Green House Gas Effect
  2. b) Help to reduce energy and carbon-dioxide emissions
  3. d) Help to enhance bio-diversity of an area
  4. a) Encourage Rain Water Harvesting
  5. b) Managing storm water by slowing the runoff rate

These and many more planning & policies may help us to look deep into these environmental issues and find effective solutions to the problems through corporate social responsibility and working hand in hand with various agencies.

(Above are my personal opinion)

Mainak Majumdar

Writer is winner of Two Gold Medals in Master of Environmental Sciences from Bangalore University and is currently working in this area of Disaster Management and Environment for over 13 years

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1900 STORM AND NEED FOR CYCLONE SHELTERS

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A daily newspaper reporter in 1900 said the story of September 8, 1900, hurricane could never be truly written. This story will ever remain memorable in the minds of the people then living along the coasts of the city. The story would definitely again remind us the horror of what can happen , when the winds blow and the tides rise along the coasts of a country. These stories and many more is giving rise to the concepts of Cyclone Shelters.The tale of death, devastation and eventual recovery is close to he hearts of Galvestonians. And as it’s stories are passed on again, the 1900 storm will become part of the history of another generation.

If people says that they had family who had died or survived the storm, there is no doubt that they are referring to a family history that goes back more than 100 years.

In the years before the great storm of Sep 8, 1900, Galveston had grown from a small settlement on the texas coast into one of the wealthiest cities in the country. There were natural deep water channel, which made Galveston the most important seaport in Terxas. Trains carried cargo to and from the port, and ships travelled across the seas. In fact almost more than 70 percent of the country’s cotton crop at that time passed through the port of Galveston, and some 1000 ships called on the port annually.

The shallow waters made it easy for bathers to wade safely several yards offshore and enjoy what was considered to be a therapeutic bathing in the Gulf. But the storm left behind a legacy that extends across the country. As families moved from the island, they carried with them the story of that night. The city was home to about 37,000 people.

It was September 8th, 1900, when the waters began to rise in the morning. Children played in flood waters, which began as early as dawn. when cline then chief meterologist of the US weather Service Station in Galveston, began his observations and he noticed Gulf water creeping over the low ends of the island. According to his memoirs, he knew at that moment of impending danger. He rode up and down the beach and urged the visitors of the coming danger. Some facts which were stunning are :

In 1900, higher ground was a relative term. The highest house in the city was at an elevation between 8 and 9 feet. Till today, we even do not know, if the coastal areas have houses at a minimum elevation. I think the answer is negative. If “Yes”, then i do not think that ‘Tsunami’, could have created such a havoc on the Java, sumatra and Indian Coasts.

But even Cline’s warning proved fruitless as the night approached. By the peak of the storm, no part of the island remained dry. It was estimated that the wind speed exceeded 120 miles per hour, according to Cline. But today with modern techniques it is found out that the wind must have been between 130 – 140 miles per hour to produce the extreme tide and storm surge of the 1900.

The 15 1/2 – foot storm surge rolled over the island from gulf to bay. Houses collapsed, and as the surge continued, a wall of debris described as at least two – stories high pushed across the island. The wall destroyed everything in it’s path, building force as it moves across the island. Pictures taken after the storm show empty streets. No people. No animals. No personal belongings. Only piles of debris that buried families beneath the remains of their homes. Bodies occasionally hang outside the debris piles. But for most part, an eerie emptiness paints a picture few words could describe.

The stench of decaying bodies and of fish and other animals rotting in the streets is unimaginable. For all practical purposes, the island was destroyed that night.

While no one wants to imagine a storm that could match the strength and lasting effects of that one, any future storm, no matter its devastation, will be compared to be the benchmark of Texas Storm – The Great Storm of September 8, 1900, in which six thousand died and thirty thousand  survived to tell the story and rebuild the city. 

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar, Specialist Disaster Management

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

CYCLONE MANAGEMENT

Millions of people living in the coastal areas of the West Atlantic, East, South Pacific and North and South Indian Oceans, regularly face the hazards of cyclone, also known as hurricane in the Western Hemisphere, typhoon in the western Pacific, willy willy near Australia and baguious in the Philippines.

Every cyclone begins as tropical low – pressure depressions, created by oceanic temperature rising above 26 degrees Celsius, which rotates clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, forming a gigantic and highly volatile atmosphere system with an eye at the vortex (10 to 50 Km) which is a relatively calm area, an eye wall (10 to 15 Km in height and 50 Km in length) of gale winds and intense clouds and spiral bands of convective clouds with torrential rains (a few Km wide and hundreds of Km long) – that move above 34 knots (64 Km per hour). The cyclones moving more than 90 Km, 120 Km and 225 Km per hour respectively have been classified as severe and super cyclones.

The hurricanes in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins are classified in categories I to V as per Saffir-Simpson Intensity Scale.

The lessons drawn from catastrophic cyclonic areas show that in the more developed countries, causality is less but more on the economic front.  Conversely in poor countries the human losses would be more but economic losses would be less simply because the unit costs of damages are assessed lower in developing countries. In middle income countries the damages to life and property would be somewhere in between.

The most complex task of mitigation is to map the hazard, risks and vulnerabilities of cyclone at all levels, analyze and assess the levels of risks and monitor it continuously. It is only on the basis of such knowledge base that a proper and effective strategy for cyclone risk mitigation and preparedness can be developed.

Atmospheric and Remote Sensing sciences have made a huge progress in the understanding of the phenomenon of cyclones. Satellite images can spot the development of low pressure zones, Doppler radars can track them down and instrumented aircrafts can reach the cyclone eye, eye walls and spiral bands to transmit data on wind velocity, pressure and moisture contents of the low pressure zones. Powerful Software tools are available to analyze the data to make fairly accurate forecasts on the intensity, direction and location of the landfall and the likely areas to be affected by winds, rain and storm surges.

The time series data on cyclones are now utilized to map and zone the areas prone to the hazards of cyclone. Such maps are now available at a regional, district and even sub district levels in most of the countries. Such maps are also available in digital formats which enable integration of various spatial data with socio-economic, housing, infrastructure and other variables that can provide a quick assessment of the risks and vulnerabilities of cyclone based on which appropriate mitigation and preparedness strategies can be developed.  But actual work on such data integration has been limited to few areas only and therefore vulnerability analysis has still to be done on the basis of ground level data collection and analysis, which is largely unattended task in most of the countries.

The satellite imageries are also supplemented with data regarding topography, vegetation, hydrology, land –use, land cover, settlement pattern etc to develop numerical models of storm surge and the inundation levels based on which timely warnings can be issued and realistic evacuation plans can be drawn up to shift the people and cattle likely to be affected by the cyclone.

However, such theoretical advances on cyclone modeling have been confronted with constraints in practical applications which would require more sustained research for accurate forecasting and simpler application format that would enable transfer of the technology to the planners and emergency response managers.

The constraints are further compounded by non-availability of accurate ground level data base and the costs involved in up-scaling such models from a pilot research phase to country wide application phase. Such works are still in progress even in advanced countries and therefore developing countries may not have the benefit of such accurate modeling in the very near future although this is well within the realm of possibility.

The other solution is the importance of Community Based Participatory Risk Assessment (PRA). Many such PRA tools have been developed in coastal areas which capture the intimate knowledge and perception that a community has about its own risks and vulnerabilities. Such perceptions have been validated by scientific analysis, lending credence to the reliability, simplicity and cost effectiveness of such assessment. More importantly, it involves the communities in the entire process making it democratic, sustainable and proactive and definitely facilities bridging the gap between assessment and preparedness or knowledge and action.

Therefore the ideal tool for assessment of cyclone risks and vulnerabilities at the local level should be a combination of scientific and traditional knowledge each supplementing the other.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

BANGLADESH CYCLONE: HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Candles786A severe cyclone has killed more than 500 people in Bangladesh and left thousands injured or missing. As, the latest new goes, Three thousand people have been confirmed dead in Bangladesh after a cyclone hit the south of the country, the private ATN Bangla television network said Sunday as the death toll continued to rise.

“We are expecting that thousands of dead bodies may be found within a few days,” the deputy head of the government’s disaster management office, Shekhar Chandra Das, told AFP in the capital Dhaka.

“We have not been able to collect information about casualties in many remote and impassable places due to the disruption to communications,” he said. In most areas telephone lines are down and roads blocked. Countless villages have also been blown from the face of the earth.
“The number of deaths so far is 1,723 and it is increasing,” said major Emdadul Islam of the armed forces control room.

“A 20-foot (six-metre) wall of water wrecked the village of Charkhali and 30 more people are still missing,” said local government official K.M. Abdul Wadud.


“The wind and the tidal surge were so strong that it churned up four kilometres (2.5 miles) of a tarmac road,” added resident Anowar Hossen Khan.

The dead were being buried in a mass grave, villagers said.
Millions more were also said to be homeless. “Village after village has been shattered,” said administrator Hariprasad Pal. “Millions of people are living out in the open and relief is reaching less than one percent of the people.”

Residents in southern districts near the coast bore the full brunt of the storm and told AFP of their terror as they were hit by wind speeds of up to 240 kilometres (155 miles) an hour, huge waves and suffocating rain. Fulmala Begum, 40, said she was not warned to evacuate and had to take refuge under a bed with her husband and two children as the storm roared around her.
“Five hours later we found ourselves under a heap of tin roofs and two huge trees. Not a single house in my village was spared the catastrophe,” said the woman, lucky to be alive but totally destitute.


Thousands of survivors waited for relief aid amid their wrecked homes and flooded fields after the deadliest storm to hit Bangladesh in a decade, as a news report said the cyclone’s death toll neared 1,800.


The Government scrambled to join international agencies and local officials in the rescue mission following Tropical Cyclone Sidr, deploying military helicopters, thousands of troops and naval ships. Rescuers struggled to clear roads and get their vehicles through, but many found the blockages impassable. “We will try again tomorrow on bicycles, and hire local country boats,” M Shakil Anwar of CARE said from the city of Khulna. At least 1.5 million coastal villagers had fled to shelters where they were given emergency rations. The cyclone, which followed devastating floods in July-September that killed more than 1000, posed a new challenge to the interim administration, whose main task is to hold free and fair national elections before the end of next year. The cyclone triggered a tidal surge that inundated the towns of Patuakhali, Barguna and Jharkhand, cutting off communication links. A government official in Dhaka said there was no immediate information about casualities from the area. The cyclone blew past India’s eastern coast without causing much damage.


The cyclone will pass and we will again try to bring back things to normalcy. But the cyclone definitely left behind a legacy of pain, sorrow and memories which are never to be forgotten. It left behind orphans, left behind the cries of a bereaved mother and father. All our planning and policies failed. Situations went out of hand. Mother Nature turned so destructive that we just stood as mere spectators and our near and dear ones are taken away from us.

Lets join hands and together create a Safer, Greener and a Disaster Free World for us as well as for our future generations.

Writer:

Mr. Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/