Cli­mate change and the floods

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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