Climate change and the floods
As many areas of Myanmar reel under the effects of flooding, an obvious question needs to be asked: is this a result of natural cycles, man-made climate change or both? On a world level, the consensus is in – man’s activities are negatively affecting the climate around the world. The release of increasing levels of CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere is raising global temperatures, leading to melting of the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic and compounding the negative effects on the oceans, the affects of which have still to be fully measured. What this means for our weather is an increased tendency towards flooding, droughts, cyclones and storms.
So should people up to their chests in water in central and coastal areas of Myanmar be blaming climate change? The jury is not yet in on how much climate change might be a factor.
The floods are said to be the “worst in decades,” with dozens dead and half a million negatively affected. Part of the reason for Myanmar’s pain was that the normal monsoon downpours coincided with a cyclone depression coming in off the Bay of Bengal, which resulted in the dumping of over one metre of rain over a few days at the beginning of August. Added to the concern are the effects of El Nino, the periodic changing of the oceans in the central and east-central Pacific Ocean. Worries have been voiced about a “massive” El Nino this year that could affect countries around the Pacific Rim and further afield to some extent or other.
The irony is that while Myanmar struggles with flooding, Thailand has been suffering a serious drought, with the monsoon rains delayed and only now starting to kick in, causing havoc for farmers seeking to plant rice. Up until just a couple of weeks ago, Thailand’s main dams had the lowest water levels in decades, in several cases below 10 percent capacity.
What is clear is that Myanmar needs to factor in climate change and unstable weather both in terms of disaster preparedness and agriculture sector support. The authorities have been criticized for their response and not being better prepared.
The chances are that serious flooding and droughts could become erratic and challenging problems in the years ahead. As we learned from the damage caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, a poor government response is not acceptable.
At a time when the Myanmar government is seeking to open the country up and bring in reforms - after decades of political and economic mismanagement - the vagaries of wild weather patterns and the potential for their negative effects on people, their livelihoods and the environment must be included in government planning on a national and local township level. As all boy scouts know – be prepared.