Thursday, October 14, 2010

Climate Change and Natural Disasters

Abdullah lived in Sukkur, a village in the northern parts of Pakistan. He lived in a hut which was part of a village built on low land; he earned a living by planting crops on land near the river bed and by herding buffalo. Although Abdullah was warned of the dangers of flooding, and had faced waters many times in his seventy years, he was not prepared for what was to follow. Today he sits in a graveyard with only a sheet tied between two tombstones to protect his family. His crops were washed away, and he lost all his buffalo even though he moved them to higher ground as a precaution.
Tragic stories like these are unfortunately becoming more common, leaving one to wonder why and how they happen. A question many of us would like the answer to.

Pakistan is one of the most natural disaster-prone countries in the World (40% of landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes, 6% to cyclone, 60% to floods, and 25% of land under cultivation is vulnerable to drought). The heavy rainfall, weak geological formations, accelerated rates of erosion and very high seismicity makes the unique geo-environmental setting of the north Himalayas prone to disasters. Considering this, and the comparative inaccessibility, the North region demands special attention to minimize loss of lives and to ensure sustainable development. An important note to be made is that the 2010 floods are historical in terms of magnitude and range. The country is exposed to floods almost every year but the recent floods break all records of the past. A bird’s eye view of the situation would show the loss of the countries’ food basket, loss of livelihood, loss of infrastructure and most importantly the displacement of 20 million people. Damages like these cannot be recovered or rehabilitated in a short time period.

Similar floods have struck China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India recently. There are many factors that contribute to these rapid changes in environmental patterns, predominant ones include the melting of glaciers, Environmental degradation, and Climate Change.
The melting of glaciers all around the world is leading to the formation of excessive bodies of water and contributing to sea level rise. This potential hazard for floods makes water management in forms of dams and canals important, especially in third world nations.
Environmental degradation in countries like Pakistan is also a leading cause of floods. Deforestation, wild land fires, water and air pollution, and desertification are all examples of environmental degradation. To further complicate the matter, soil erosion occurs when clear cut land is exposed to the sun, making it very dry and eventually infertile, due to the volatile decrease in nutrients like nitrogen. Landslides triggered by floods are responsible for taking many lives.
It is a well-known fact that global warming is being caused largely due to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, it is not quite as well known that deforestation has a direct association with carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that make up trees. When deforestation occurs, many of the trees are burnt or not allowed to rot, which results in releasing the carbon that is stored in them. This, in turn, leads to greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The direct correlation between warmer temperatures and global average precipitation signifies the importance of the stability of the environment in relation to floods.

Urbanization has increased society’s vulnerability to floods. The public needs to be educated that floods cause much human suffering and infrastructure damage in a short span of time. This knowledge should further reflect on our actions towards the environment. The rise in natural disasters should be considered a wake up call to start appreciating the environment instead of testing its limits


"Structural Causes of Vulnerability to Flood Hazard in Pakistan* - Mustafa - 2010 - Economic Geography." Wiley Online Library. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. .

1 comment:

  1. ** link wont show up in blog post


    "Structural Causes of Vulnerability to Flood Hazard in Pakistan* - Mustafa - 2008 - Economic Geography." Wiley Online Library. Web. 15 Oct. 2010.