Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Ireland's floods:part of a bigger picture

Ireland’s floods: part of a bigger picture

The terrible floods that have had such a disastrous affect on so many Irish communities over the Xmas/New Year period, with more severe problems on the way, are part of a much wider pattern. In this article I outline reports of flooding in roughly the same time period from around the world and then ask what political conclusions can be drawn from this.

Gerald Fleming of Met Éireann said, on New Years’s Day, that while the rain levels would not be excessive, the ground is already saturated after the wettest December on record. In Ireland weather in December has been both exceptionally wet and exceptionally mild.
In Britain it has been the same story: devastating floods as a consequence of extraordinary weather. The Meteorological Office stated  that long-standing weather records have been smashed by a stormy, yet warm December. Scotland, Wales and the north-west of England all had the wettest December in more than a century. A UK mean temperature of 8C (46F) broke records too and felt more like April or May.
In America things have been even more extreme. A wave of severe weather events, including heavy snow, storms, flooding and tornadoes, has claimed 43 lives across the USA over the last few days.
On Sunday 27 December, 11 people were killed as tornadoes swept through Dallas, Texas. Also on 27 December, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency after a severe snow storm hit the southeastern part of the state. Martinez said. “I cannot express how serious the situation is. The southeastern part of the state has 16 to 20 inches of snow with snow drifts of 8 to 10 feet.”
Authorities in southern Illinois said that three adults and two children drowned on 26 December when their vehicle was swept away. Over the weekend of 25 to 27 December, floods in Missouri left 8 people dead. Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon, has declared a state of emergency.
Earlier storms in the south east of the country on 23 December resulted in 19 deaths. Two were reported killed in Alabama, 10 in Mississippi, 6 in Tennessee and one in Arkansas.
Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri on 27 December 2015 as heavy rain, flooding and flash flooding continued to impact much of the state. There have been at least eight fatalities. 10 people have died in storms and floods in Mississippi since 23 December.
Meanwhile in New York at Xmas, when it is normally freezing, there was warm weather and people were out in their T-shirts.
South America

It has been very much the same story in South America where Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentine have all experienced exceptional rainfall and serious flooding in the last week of December.

In Brazil as many as 40 municipalities have been affected by flooding in Rio Grande do Sul state,. The flooding has forced almost around 9,000 people to evacuate.
Several rivers in the state have overflowed, in particular the Uruguay River in Uruguaiana municipality. According to the latest reports river levels were at 11.18 metres on 27 December, which is over 3 metres above alert levels and over 6 metres above normal levels.
In Uruguay, over 11,000 people have now been displaced according to the national emergency department. In the city of Artigas, the Cuareim River, a tributary of the Uruguay River, rose to 15.28 meters on Wednesday 23 December 2015.Safety levels are considered to be 10.20 metres.
In Paraguay’s capital of Asunción the Paraguay River reached 7.71 metres on 24 December .This is the second highest level ever recorded for the month of December.  Then the levels went even higher and over 90,000 people in the area around Asuncion have had to be evacuated and other parts of Paraguay have also been hit. And in neighbouring Argentina the overflowing Uruguay, Paraguay and Paraná rivers have forced around 25,000 from their homes.
The Philippines

In the Philippines a week of severe weather has left over 40 people dead  prompting the government to declare a “state of national calamity.”
The  authorities say Tropical Cyclone Melor, known locally as “Nona”, made landfall on 15 December 2015, causing widespread destreuction and many deaths.. Media reported that 11 people died in the cyclone, many of them from the island of Mindoro, where flood waters were as deep as 2 metres in some places.

Melor also brought flooding to several major cities, including Manila, which recorded 146.8 mm of rain fall in a 24 hour period to 16 December. Authorities  carried out the pre-emptive evacuations of almost 750,000 people in anticipation of the threat of Cyclone Melor.
Currently, according to the latest reports, a total of 37,145 families or 175,168 persons are inside 526 evacuation centres and 38,601 families or 192,098 persons are outside evacuation centres,.
The cyclone was followed swiftly by a tropical depression, known locally as Storm Onyok. The storm made landfall on 18 December 2015 in Caraga and Manay, and triggered flooding and landslides. By Saturday 19 December the tropical depression had weakened into a low pressure area bringing torrential rains to the central Visayas islands and Mindanao.
Philippines authorities say that a total of 32,914 families or 143,097 persons were affected by Onyok. Over 12,000 were staying in 87 evacuation centres set up by local disaster management authorities.
The Philippines National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) also reported on 20 December that the Northeast Monsoon was affecting Northern and Central Luzon, bringing with it the threat of flash floods and landslides.
Malaysia, Indonesia, Norway and the Congo.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Norway all suffered serious flooding due to excessive rain in December. Norway experienced record levels of rain in 4-6 December.  Malaysia was forced to evacuate over 3000 in several states and in Aceh in Indonesia over 50,000 were affected and at least 1 person died.
Even worse affected was the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Torrential rain between 11 and 12 December 2015 caused deadly floods and landslides in eastern and western parts of the Congo. Local news reports claim that 18 people have died in eastern South Kivu and 9 in western Bas Congo provinces. Other reports suggest floods have claimed over 30 deaths in the capital of Kinshasa and other areas of the country since late November.
Southern India

All the flooding discussed so far has occurred in the last month but it is all eclipsed by what took place in the Tamil Nadu region of Southern India in October and November. According to the regional government 347 people died in a flood disaster that devastated the state capital of Chennai and other districts.

India’s central government has declared the floods a ‘calamity of severe nature’. 1.8 million people had to be rescued  and housed in 6,605 relief centres. Almost 4000 cattle were killed and economic losses are estimated at $3 billion. The gap between this figure and the $300 million insurance claims anticipated shows that the chronic  absence of insurance cover in the area and means that the large majority of the impoverished ordinary people whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed will simply be left to fend for themselves..

Some conclusions

What general conclusions can we draw from this remarkable and shocking sequence of events?

The first is that although they are all reported in the mainstream media they are given very little prominence relative to their objective importance, except in the immediate vicinity of each disaster. The obvious comparison and contrast is with the intense over reporting of anything remotely connected to ‘Muslim terrorism’ , almost anywhere in the world.

The second is that when a particular disaster is reported it is done in isolation, so that the public should not see the overall pattern  Again the contrast with the coverage of ‘Muslim extremism’ where the international pattern and ‘threat’ is always brought out, is striking. Whereas the adjective Muslim or Islamic is attached to terrorist, extremist or radical whenever popular the media almost never mentions ‘climate change’ in conjunction with these or other ‘natural’ disasters. When the great and the good gather together in Paris to spout hot air and do very little there is huge coverage. When the climate change they are NOT stopping hits ordinary people it is ‘Don’t mention the war’.

Of course, the media will make the defence that particular weather events cannot be attributed directly to climate change. This is true but – deliberately - misses the point: the point being that global warming does not cause a specific flood but systematically increases the frequency and intensity of flooding (and droughts and fires and storms etc.). In other words it creates precisely the kind of pattern of extreme weather events that we are witnessing and which media reporting obscures.

The third conclusion relates to the way we think about climate change. The general discourse around climate change (in the media, among politicians and also among many ordinary people, including people on the left who accepted the scientific argument about climate change) has been in the future tense. Climate change was discussed as something that might (or might not) ‘happen’ or get really serious in  thirty,fifty or eighty years.  The question was do ‘we’ have time to stop it? Or what will happen when/if sea levels rise?  Will we all be underwater by 2100?. What these and many other recent events make clear is that we have to use the present tense. CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOW. Of course it can and will get worse but its happening right now.

This means that we on the left have to develop our arguments and demands and campaigns  not only about the absolute necessity of drastically reducing carbon emissions by switching to renewable energy sources but also about the need for immediate measures to cope with the effects of climate change e.g. floods, storms, fires, droughts. Unless we do this working people and the poor here and the world over will be made to pay the price of global warming just as they are made to pay the price of economic crisis. And the price will be horrendous.

 John Molyneux

No comments: