Friday, December 19, 2008

The Water Is

If countries fail to adapt to the new reality of climate change, Coleman warns, they will suffer far greater damage from floods, droughts and hurricanes.

The World Bank study, led by Susmita Dasgupta, of its Development Research Group, says some countries will suffer the effects of sea level rise much worse than others. Severe impacts will be limited to a "relatively small number of countries".

As well as highlighting the fact that Vietnam is the most vulnerable of all countries, the report goes on to predict likely damage to the Bahamas which could lose more than a tenth of its territory to a one-meter rise. Egypt faces the flooding of 13% of its agricultural land while Mauritania, Guyana and Jamaica are also among the biggest losers.

Surprisingly, Bangladesh which is often associated with rising sea levels is listed as the tenth most affected by land area, with just over 1% likely to be flooded.

The report says: "The overall magnitudes for the developing world are sobering: within this century, tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by sea level rise, and the accompanying economic and ecological damage will be severe for many."

It adds: "International resource allocation strategies should recognize the skewed impact distribution we have documented. Some countries will be little affected by sea level rise, while others will be so heavily impacted that their national integrity may be threatened. Given the scarcity of available resources, it would seem sensible to allocate aid according to degree of threat."

This study is the first of its kind and therefore is neither foolproof nor all-encompassing. There was no investigation into the effects of milder sea level rises which will be felt exponentially over the next few decades. The report appears to prepare us for 2100; but, what will the years leading up to that be like? Unfortunately, the testing methods were not sophisticated enough to assess the impact on or the fate of small islands which are particularly vulnerable. There is also no indication of the impact the adaptation measures which will be put in place over the next century will have.

Nevertheless, its central message is clear: "There is little evidence that the international community has seriously considered the implications of sea level rise for population location and infrastructure planning in many developing countries."

A separate Oxfam report last month investigated the situation on the ground in Vietnam, in the provinces of Ben Tre and Quang Tri.

Vietnam has made some very impressive development achievements. It is one of the few countries on track to meet most of its millennium development goals by 2015. They managed to reduce their poverty rate from about 58% to 18% in 2006 – an impressive 40% drop in the poverty level of the Vietnam population.

However, Oxfam warns that the effects of climate change threaten all the work the Vietnamese people have done. "Such impressive achievements are now at risk," Oxfam says. Vietnam is one of the lowest contributors to world greenhouse gas emissions producing just 0.35% emissions in 2000.

It is not just rising sea levels that pose a threat; higher temperatures, as well as more extremes of weather such as drought and typhoons, will have a "potentially devastating impact on the country's people and economy", the report says.

Some communities are attempting to adapt to changing weather patterns in the hope that the changes they are implementing have come soon enough. Rice farmers are harvesting earlier before the main flooding season or growing a rice variety with a shorter growing cycle. However, the report found that once again it was the poor people (the people with the least to lose) across both Ben Tre and Quang Tri, who were ill-equipped to cope with the consequences of the climate changing.

Oxfam says that rich countries must step in - and quickly. "The amounts of investment needed are beyond [Vietnam's] budgetary capacity," it says. "International adaptation finance will be needed in the face of unavoidable impacts."

Take the time to write to elected officials to let your views be known. We are still in early days and time may remain to make changes; but, they won’t happen alone and they won’t happen overnight.

Eventually, it all comes down to your point of view. Do you see the one-meter sea level rise as an encroachment on the land of only 0.3% which can be compensated for elsewhere? Or do you see it as a life-changing, perhaps life-ending, event that will affect 56 million people?

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