1a-Are Humans to Blame for Exacerbating Many Natural Hazards

1a-Are Humans to Blame for Exacerbating Many Natural Hazards

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–5. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: ECOLOGY N DI-ICEh-‘IBER. W99. almost 20.000.- UIIII cubic yards of mud. trees. and hold? dcrs came hart'elirtg tlonn front Vene- xttcln's coastal mountain range onto the densely populated and heavily urbanized ribs hon of land that hugs the Caribbean coast. killing around EUJNIU people artd causing about ‘52.(l(ltt.t'lt)ll.llllll in damages. Two years worth of rairt had fallen in just two days. dis- lodging soil already saturated h_\- two weeks of heavy La Nina rains. While floods and landslides are common in this area. the devas tation unearthed far more than boulders and bare soil. It exposed the perils of developrner‘rt in risk) locations as well as inadequate disas— ter planning and response. ltr (flctoher. WW. llurrictute Mitch slant- ntcd into (.‘entral America. pummeling Hott- duras'. Nicaragua. El Salvador. and (iiuatentala for urore than a week, As tlte powerful storm hung over the region. it dumped approsirnate- ly Rf) inches of rain. By the time it turned back ottt to .sea. about 10.041) people had died. making it the deadliest hurricane irt Blltl years. Conservative estimates place its damage to the region at around SSjtlIIUUUIKIII—higher than tlte combined gross domestic product [GDP] of Honduras and Nicaragua. the two nations hardest hit. The storm set back devel- opment in the. region by decades. Venertrela and Central .-‘\meriea were not the oul_\- regions to experience such devttstttv lion in recent years. In fact. the IFNUs set a record for disasters worldwide. During the decade. more than $(rtltt,t)tl(l.tltltl.(l00 in eco- nomic losses were. chalked up to natural cata- strophes. an arrtotrnt greater than dtrrirtg the previous four decades combined. In IWHJN. more than 120,000 people were Itilled and millions Were displaced from their homes. In India. “1.000 lost their lives in a I998 c_vclorte in Gujarat: the following tear. as man}; as St) UUIJ died when a "superey- clone" hit Uri sa. Vast forest lites raged out of control in Brazil. Indonesia. and Siberia. Back-to-lmck earthquakes in El Salvador it] .lz'tttuary. lllfll. erased much of the recon- struction efforts made there in the two years since l-[ttrricane Mitch. That same month. powerful earthquakes struck Gujarat. India. and major floods submerged much of Mo- zambique for the second year in a row. Ironically. the United Nations had desig- nated the thls as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. hoping to stem the rising toll taken by such events. In- slead. the |99tls may go down irt history as the International Decade of Disasters. as the world experienced the most costly spate of floods. storms. earthquakes. and fires that it ever had. Around the planet. a growing share ol the devastation triggered by natural disasters stems. from ecological!) destructive practices and from putting people in harm's tray. Many ecosystems ha\ e been frayed to the pomt where they are no longer resilient and able to \t‘irhstztnd natural disturbances. setting the 36 . Are Humans _to Blame for Exacerbatrng Many ATURAL DISASTERS? BY JANET N. ABRAMOVITZ stage for “unnatural disasters”ithose tirade more frequent or more severe dtte to human actions. By degrading forests. engineering rivers. filling in wetlands. and destabilizing the climate. we are unraveling the strands of a complex ecological safety net. We are begin— ning to understand just how valuahle that safety net is. The enormous expansion of the human population and the built-up environment in the 20th eenttrr} means that more. people and economic activities are vulnerable. The ttti- gration of people to cities and coasts increases our vulnerability to the fttll array of natural ltnmt‘ds. The e\p|osive growth of shortly- Iowns in the cities of the developing world puts untold numbers of people at risk. These htrman~esacerhated disaster-s often take their heat iesl toll on those who can least. afford it-i-the poor. Ecologically. socially. and economically. mart} regions are no“ vulnerable and ill-pre- pared for the onslaught of storms. floods. and other hazards. Hurricane Mitch stashed away hillsides. sweeping up homes. farms. roads. bridges. and people in massive ntudslidCs and floods, Given that Central America has fre- quent hurricanes and earthquakes as well as sortie of the highest rates of deforestation in the svorldgea'ch year it loses two to four 1r- cent of its remaining forest cover. and Hon- duras alone has already cleared half its forest- ed landithe tragedy should not be all Iltal surprising. The pressures of poverty: populas lion growth. and inequitable land rights have forced more and more people into vulnerable USA TODAY fir JULY 2002 areas such as steep hillsides and unprotected riverbanks. The lion's share of l'amiland is owned by a tiny fraction of the population. In Guatemala. for example. 65% of the familiard is held by less than three percent of the famts. 1n Honduras. 90% of prime farmland is owned by l(l% of the population. Little won- der that 82% of the rural population in Hone dams and over two-thirds in Guatemala and Nicaragua live on the fragile hillsides. Fur- ther. when crippling debt burdens consume most of a nation's budget and stall develop“ ment. few resources remain to address these problems. To date. much of the response to disasters has focused on improving weather predictions before the events and providing cleanup and humanitarian relief afterward. both of which USA TODAY it JULY 2002 have helped save many lives. Yet. mtrch more can be done. On average. $l invested in miti- gation can save $7 in disaster recovery costs. and mitigation measures are far more effec- tive when integrated into sustainable develop- ment effon's. Meanwhile. nature provides many valuable services to curb natural disasters. Healthy and resilient ecosystems are shock absorbers that protect against coastal storms and sponges that soak up floodwaters. for instance. We should take advantage of these free se-rviCes. rather than undermine them. In order to stem the ever—rising social and economic costs of disasters. we need to focus on how to mitigate them by understanding otrr culpability. taking steps to reduce our vulnerability. and manag- ing ottr impacts on nature more wisely. italics) BAE’G liq 03014:; smalsl VINElzl There is an important distinction between natural and unnatural disasters. Many ecosys- tems and species are adapted to natural distur- bance: indeed. some are necessary to maintain their health turd vitality. even their continued existence. Numerous forests and grasslands. for example. depend on periodic natural ftres to burn off dead vegetation. restore soil fertili- ty. turd release seeds. Likewise. river systems need periodic flooding. and plants and animals across the landscape have adapted to this regime. Fish use the floodplain as a spawning ground and nursery for their young. Minty pltutts need the flood period to germinate and absorb newly available dissolved nutrients. Migratory birds also rely on the bounty that floods bring. Soils. too. benefit from the regular addition of nutrients and organic matter. and underground aquifers are refilled as floodwaters are slowly absorbed into the ground. By disrupting the natural flooding regime. we cut oil the interactions between a river and its surrounding landscape that make them more diverse and productive. Natural flooding is so beneficial that some of the biggest fish and crop harvests come the year after a flood. Little wonder that floodplains and deltas have attracted human settlement for millennia and been the cradles ol’civilizations. last as not every natural disturbance is a disaster. not every disaster is completely nat- ural. We have altered many natural systems so dramatically that their ability to bounce back from disturbance has been greatly diminished. Deforestation impairs watersheds. contributes to clitnate change. and raises the risk of fires. Destruction of coastal wetlands. dunes. and mangroves eliminates nature's shock ab- sorbers for coastal storms. Such human-made changes end up making naturally vulnerable areas—such as hillsides. rivers. coastal zones. and low—lying islands—even more vulnerable to extreme weather events. Droughts. and the famines that often fol- low. may be the most widely understood—if underreported—esample of an unnatural dis— aster. They are triggered partly by global cli— mate variability (both natural and human-in- duced) and partly by resource mismanage- ment such as deforestation. overgrazing. raid the overtapping of rivers and wells for irriga- tion. Considered slow-onset events. droughts are not as well—reported as rapid-onset occur~ r‘ences like storms and floods. nor are they usually included in disaster-related financial loss data. Yet. they affect major portions of Africa and Asia and are projected to continue worsening in the coming years as a result of climate change. According to data prepared by the Centre for Research on the iipidemiolr ngy of Disasters and published in the World Disasters Report. droughts and fatnines ac— counted for 42% of disaster—related deaths be- tween l99l and 2000. Human settlements have become less re~ silient as we pttt more structures. econotnic activity. and people in vulnerable places. Our 37 ECOLOGY usual approach to natural disturbances is to try to prevent them through shortsighted strategies using methods that all too often ex- acerbate them. Druns raid levees. for instance. change the flow of rivers and accordingly in4 crease the frequency and severity of droughts and floods. China's Yangtze River dramatically shows the consequences of the loss of healthy eco~ systems. Flooding in 1998 caused more titan 4.000 deaths. affected 223000.000 people. in— undated 61.000.000 acres of cropland. and cost well over 3536000000000. Heavy suin— tner rains are. common in southem and central China. and flooding often ensues. In 1998, however. as the floodwater continued to rise. it became clear that other factors besides heavy rains were at play. One influence was tlte extensive deforestation that had left many éaa but natural. claiming that the [lending was caused by El Nifio. As the disaster toll mount~ ed. though. the State Council finally recogr nizcd the human element. It beamed logging in the upper Yangtze watershed. prohibited additional land reclamation projects in the riv— er's floodplain. and stepped up efi'orts to re: forest the watershed. Flooding raid landslides following defor- estation are not limited to developing coun- tries. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest. where hundreds of landslides occur annually. at study found that 9401 of them originated from clearcuts and logging roads. The torrents of water and debris from degraded watersheds caused billions of dollars in damage in 1996 alone. Paradoxically. clearing natural forest also exacerbates drought by allowing the soil to Tornado destroyed church and other buildings in the town of Aerial. Tenn.. Jauary, 1999. steep hillsides blue. to the past few decades. 85% of the forest cover in the Yangtze basin has been cleared by logging and agriculture. The loss of forests. which nonnally intercept rainfall and allow it to be absorbed by the soil. permitted water to rush across the lattd. cany- ing valttable topsoil with it. As the runoff raced across the dettudcd landscape. it caused floods. In addition. the Yangtze's natural flood controls had been undermined by numerous dams and levees. and a huge proportion of the basin's wetlands and lakes. which usually act as natural sponges. had been filled in or drained. The areas previously left open to give lloodwaters a place to go have filled instead with waves of httman settlements. All these changes reduced the capacity ofthe Yangtze's watershed to absorb rain and greatly increased the speed and severity of the resulting runoff. Chinese government officials initially dc~ nied that the Yangtze floods were anything 33 dry out tnorc quickly. Such droughts helped fuel the record-breaking tires in Indonesia and Brazil in l997-98. These massive fires no ctirred in tropical forests that tuc normally too moist to hunt. When fragmented by logging and agficultural clearing. the forests dried to the point where tires set deliberately to clear land were quickly able to spread out of con— trol. lit Indonesia. industrial timber and palm oil plantation owners took advantage of a se- vere El Nino drought to expand their areas and in |997-98 burned at least 24.0tll.).00tl acres. an area the sire of South Korea. The smoke and haze from Indonesia's fires choked ttcighlmring countries. affecting about 70.000000 people. The economic damage to the region has been conservatively estimated at around 59.300.000.000. Schools. aitports. attd businesses were shut down. Many crops were lost to the drought and tires. and the haze impaired the pollination of other crops and wild plants. the ecological repercussions etzueg aiuuew itq mood swiaN vwaj of which will unfold for many years. It" harm to fisheries. biodiversity. orangutans. and long-term health were included. the damage figure would be far higher. Sumatra and Kalimantan. the provinces where most of the l907-9li lires occurred. have lost tip to 3t 1% of their forest cover to ex- ploitation and line over the last [5 years. One of the first; signals that indicated the forests were in trouble due to exploitation policies was seen during another El Nifio year. [982- 83. when approximately 3.000.000 acres burned in Kalimantan. In 0391. rut additional l.300.000 acres bumed. and in 1994. 12.000.— 000 acres went up in smoke. As Charles Bar- ber and James Schweithelm put it in Trial by Fire. “the lires of 1997 turd l998 were just the latest symptom of a destructive forest re- source management system carried out by the Suharto regime over 30 years." In South Africa. the spread of non‘native vegetation {including pine and wattle trees) has greatly increased the incidence of intense and dangerous fires. The invasives are also hi~ jacking precious water resources—around seven percent of the annual surface water llowiand displacing globally unique native plant communities. Alien plants already cover almost 25.000000 acresiabout eight percent of the vast nation. A serious effort is uttdcr way in South Africa to stop the spread of in- vasive species. which. unless checked. are predicted to double in area over the next 20 years. In contrast to human—made unnatural disasr ters that shottld be prevented. but are not. con- siderable effort is spent trying to stop natural disturbances that are actually beneficial, The result is disasters of unnatural proportions. In the U.S.. for instance. fire suppression has long been the policy. even in forest and grass- tand ecosystems that are lire-dependent. The result has been the buildup of debris that fuels very hot fires capable of destroying these ecosystems. as well as the homes that are in- creasingly built there. The record—setting ex- pense of tires and lire suppression iii the l.l.S.inearly $l.400.000.000 in Federal agency costs in 2000—is a telling reminder of the consequences of such wrongheaded poli— cies. Recent events have rekindled the debate and are providing the stimulus to rethink American lire policies. Likewise. a common response to Ilotais is to try to prevent them by controlling rivets. Contrary to popular belief. though. containing a river in etnhankments. dams. channels. reservoirs. and other structures does not re- duce flooding. Instead. it dramatically in- creases the rate of flow and causes even worse Ilooding downstream. The Rhine River in Eu rope. for example. is cut off from 90% of its original floodplain itt its Ltppet‘ reaches and llow‘s twice as fast as it did before. the modifi- cations. Flotxling in the basin has grown sige niftcantly more frequent and severe due to in— creased urbanization. ri\er engineering. and poor lloodplain management. USA TODAY * JULY 2002 The great Midwest flood of tire trppcr Mis- sissippi and Missouri rivers in I903 provided another dramatic and costly lesson on the ef- fects of treating the natural flow of rivers as a pathological condition. The flood was the largest and most destructive in modern US. history. It set records for amounts ofprecipita- tion. upland runoff. river levels. flood dura- tion. area of flooding. and economic loss. Fi- nancial costs were estimated at $|9.000.000.— 000. The floodwaters breached levees span- hing.r arottnd 6.000 miles. In hindsight. many now realize that the rivers were simply at- tempting to reclaim their floodplain. Not sur- prisingly. [993 was a record spawning year for fish as the rivers were restored. temporari- ly. to more natural functioning. Today‘s problems reflect the cumulative impacts of more than a century of actiotts by public and private interests to expand agricul- ture. facilitate navigation. and control flood- ing on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Nearly half of the 2.345—miIe-long Mississip— pi flows through artificial channels. Records show that the 1973. 1982. and 1993 floods were substantially higher than they might have been before structttral flood control he gan in |927 after a major flood. Throughout the huge Mississippi River basin. the consuuction of thousands of levees. the creation of deep navigation channels. ex— tensive farming in the Floodplain. and the draining of over l7.0()0.000 acres of wetlands (more than an 35% reduction in some states) have cut into the ability of the Mississippi's floodplains to absorb and slowly release min. tloodwatc-r. nutrients. and sediments. Separat— ing fish from floodplain spawning grounds and upstream teaches has virtually eliminated some species and caused many others to de- cline. The commercial fish catch in the Mis- souri River. the Mississippi's largest tributary. fell 83% between 1947 and I995. Flood control and navigation structures have also adversely affected the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf of Mexico. Because these structures trap sediments. rather than allow them to be eanied downstream to replenish the delta. as they have done for millennia. the coastal are subsiding as water inundates wetlands and threatens coastal communities and productive fisheries. The management and policy changes be— gun after the 1927 flood have had other per- verse effects. One was to shift the cost and re- sponsibility for flood control and relief from the local to the Federal level. Another was to encourage people. farms. and businesses to settle in vulnerable areas with the knowledge that they would be bailed out of trouble at tax— payer expense. The govemment also fostered settlement in these areas by providing crop insttnntce and price guarantees. and by paying for most of the cost of levees. The net result is that farm— ing the land in the. former river channel is profitable only with regular Federal payments for flood damage. USA TODAY * JULY 2002 FEMA News Photo by Mannie Garcia In I968. Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to cover flood-prone areas that private insurers deemed too risky. which led to rebuildng in wary of these areas. Nearly half of the payments for florad claims went to the repeat flood victims who account for less than one percent of the policyholders. For those without flood insur— ance. emergency relief aid was repeatedly provided. further contributing to the cycle of losses. The IQ‘JR Mississippi flootl‘s human and economic costs. combined with its benefits to the ecosystems functions. inspired a rethink- ing of the way huge rivers are managed. After the flood. a Federal task force recommended ending tlte nation's oven‘eliance on engineer- ing and structural means for flood control in favor of floodplain restoration and manage— } a Workers begn clearing away the ka e fm a Florida horn months. All told. 1.300 people died: 31.000.— 000 were left temporarily homeless; and al— most I0.0I)0.000 [lilies of roads were heavin damaged. Overall damage estimates exceed $3.400.000.000~or It'l‘Itrr of the nation's GDP. A number of factors precipitated Bangla‘ desh's bomm. Heavy rainfall ttprivcr in the Himalayas of northent India and Nepal. some of which fell on heavily logged areas. exacer— bated the disaster. as did the runoff from ex- tensive development upstream that helped clog the region's rivers and floodplains with silt and mud. In the future. climate change will make Bangladesh even more vulnerable. as rising sea levels are projected to submerge 209? of the nation's land area. and increased extreme rainfall and cyclone activity could bring tnore flooding. This situation will be ‘_‘__ ‘- _- _ K e that was heavily damaed by Hurricane Andrew. August. 1992, one of t 9 most destructive storms ever recorded in America. merit. It emphasized managing the river as a whole ecosystem. rather than as short seg- ments. Other reforms to the NFIP have been promoted by a wide range of groupsgfrom floodplain managers to insurance companies and envirorunental groups—to reduce repeat— ed flood losses. save taxpayer dollars. and re- store the health of the Mississippi basin. On the other side ofthe globe. Bangladesh suffered its most-extensive flood of the ZOth century in the summer of “398. when two- thirds of the country became inundated for months. Annual floods are a natural and bene- ficial cycle in this low-lying coastal nation. which encircles the meandering deltas of the Ganges. Brahmaputra. and Meghna rivers. The people of Bangladesh have long adapted their housing. land use patterns. and econom— ic activities to these burrito [beneficial floods). However. I998 brought a button (devastating flood}. Floodwaters reached near-record leveis attd did not rece-de for ntade worse because large expanses of stabi- lizing mangroves have been removed from shores in recent years to make way for shrimp ponds. exposing the coast to additionai inun- dation. Further. a major reason that so much of Bangladesh was submerged for so long was that extensive embankments built in the last It) years as part of the nation’s Flood Action Plan actually prevented drainage because wa- ter that topped the embankment during the floods peak could not drain as the river re- ceded. The structures also dried ottt the back- waters that oncc fertilized lields and provided fish after the floods receded. * Janet N. Abramovt'tz is a senior researcher or the Wkar'lcht'ttrrh Institute. 'rl’rtslrt’ngtrm. D. C.. focusing on n'rtrys'tr'm services. forests- and finest products, biodit'crxin'. freshwater- ecosystr'ms. crmstrmptr'on. and social equity. She is the cttrffmt'rlf Unnatural Disasters. 39 Copyright© 2002 EBSCO Publishing ...
View Full Document

Page1 / 5

1a-Are Humans to Blame for Exacerbating Many Natural Hazards

This preview shows document pages 1 - 5. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online