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disaster prevention

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Remembering Bhopal 30 Years Later

Adriana Jordanova Damianova's picture
Children stand near the dilapidated premises of Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. (Photo via Bhopal Medical Appeal / Flickr CC)Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaking from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal claimed more than 5,000 lives and exposed more than half a million people to harmful toxins.  The negligence and human tragedy made Bhopal synonymous with industrial disaster and showed just how harmful chemical pollution is to health and well-being. The enormous human loss calls for remembering the victims and stronger engagement on a wide range of pollution management and environmental health issues to prevent similar tragedies.

What Happened Then?
A chemical gas spilled from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide. More than 40 tons of gas created a dense cloud over more than half a million people and killed thousands.  None of the six safety systems at the plant worked to prevent the disaster. The company’s own documents prove the plant was designed with “untested” technology, and that it cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.

The State of Bhopal Today
Today, clean-up of the site is still pending, those who survived the disaster don’t have alternate livelihood opportunities and victims are still suffering.

Becoming a “Forest Savior”: Community Participation for Conservation

Faria Selim's picture

 Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan/World Bank“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.  
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.

Crying wolf? Contagion is a real threat!

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

If you accept my 5 cents of wisdom, you should rush to see the new movie “Contagion.” It is a well done, spooky public health mystery, with great acting. Why you may ask? Simply because it is a timely reminder about the public health risks but also the potential benefits of a globalized world.

Watching the movie brought back vivid memories of passionate discussions we had in the fall of 2005 when we—a Europe and Central Asia and East Asia and the Pacific agriculture and public health team—prepared in a few days what became the $500 million Global Program for Avian Influenza and Human Pandemic Preparedness and Response.