By Stéphane Hallegatte, Mook Bangalore, and Francis Samson Nkoka
Malawi is no stranger to significant flooding. In January 2012, floods affected more than 10,000 people and caused US$3 million worth of damage to households and infrastructure. But this year’s floods are much larger in magnitude, even unprecedented.
Beginning in early January, heavy rains triggered significant flooding in the southern and eastern districts of the country. The districts which experienced the largest impacts include Nsanje and Chikwawa in the south and Phalombe and Zomba in the east. So far, the flooding has affected more than 600,000 people, displaced over 170,000, and damaged agricultural crops covering more than 60,000 hectares.
While aggregate numbers and economic cost indicate the seriousness of the event, it is critical to look at exactly who is affected in the country. We have found that the poorest are on the front line.
The southern fringes of the Sahara desert host rugged lands where mankind has thrived for more than a millennium. In this vast panorama, the Inner Niger Delta stands out: In a region where limited rainfall is a fact of life, the Delta is a natural dam and irrigation scheme whose flood plain creates a grazing and cropping perimeter that at its peak can reach 30,000 km2 and sustains about 900,000 people.
I will never forget October 8, 2005, a day that changed my life forever as it did for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.
I remember my house shaking violently like never before and my instinctive reaction to get myself and my family to safety outside the house. This was an earthquake that felt distinctly different from others. Things were shaking and moving too much and for too long. When we started seeing plumes of smoke rising from where a high rise apartment building had once stood, we knew this was really bad. Watching the terrified look of affected people on TV shook me inside and forced me to think about difference I could make. When I went back to my job and my life, the question kept nagging at me. When I was presented with the opportunity to work on the earthquake reconstruction project for the World Bank, I took it and have never looked back.
Also available in Thai
The wet season has already arrived in Thailand, and with it, also memories of the devastating floods that in 2011 affected more than 13 million people, left 680 dead, and caused US$46.5 billion in damages and losses. The impact of the floods on businesses and global supply chains has been well-documented with accounts making headlines throughout 2012. But how about the poor?
The flooding altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women - particularly those in already precarious situations. Two years onwards, what has changed? Having visited two slum upgrading projects in north Bangkok last month, there are insights relevant for other Asian cities grappling with rapidly growing populations, the force of natural hazards, and climatic uncertainties.
For the first time ever, more than one million households ravaged by the devastating floods of 2010 are being uplifted through a unique cash transfer approach in Pakistan, employing innovative use of payment technology, control and accountability mechanisms, making it possible to give back to the flood-affected families their right to life!
Global warming may have severe consequences for developing countries prone to extreme weather events. Projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization suggest the frequencies and/or intensities of climate extremes will increase in the 21st century. Some recent extreme weather events illustrate how severe their consequences can be. Examples include heavy floods in Australia and Brazil in 2011, extreme winter weather all over Europe, heat wave in Russia, devastating floods in Pakistan, India, China, and Mozambique in 2010, and super cyclones in Myanmar (in 2008) and Bangladesh (in 2007).
Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.
In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.
Pakistan’s deadly floods have affected more than 14 million people, with some estimates putting the figure considerably higher. The affected area covers 132,421 km, including 1.4 million acres of cropped land. Continuing rains have caused additional flooding and hindered relief activities.
|UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal|
A World Bank report released on July 30 finds that poverty in Pakistan fell by an impressive 17.3 percentage points between 2001 and 2008 (from 34.5 percent in 2001-02 to 17.2 percent in 2007-08). Three out of Pakistan’s four major provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP), Punjab, and Sindh – saw significant declines in poverty during this period. The largest fall in poverty was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). According to the Bank report “high level of remittances, both foreign and domestic, seem to have facilitated” the decline in poverty in KP.
Pakistan saw migrant remittances reach a record $ 8.9 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 14 percent compared to the 2009 fiscal year despite the global economic crisis (Pakistan’s fiscal year runs from July to June). The World Bank report says “Continued strong growth in worker’s remittances in the past few years has also contributed to improvements in the external current account balance” and “have facilitated improvement in the country’s external position”.
A friend sent me the link to “One Minute to Save the World”, an interesting campaign that is inviting one-minute films from people across the world who care about climate change. The organizers are offering £1,000 as first prize for the best film, and there’s a nice line-up of films already. The panel of judges is a qualified one, and includes a number of well-known names, from Shekhar Kapur, Oscar-winning director, to Franny Armstrong of The Age of Stupid fame.