The risk of being ill-prepared

Hurricane Sandy swept through the states of New York and New Jersey making it clear to all that the forces of nature, amplified and stronger as a result of climate change, will spare no one.

The impacts of climate change are here for all to see. The destructive power of nature is being made incrementally worse by a warming climate. In 2012, it was Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc on New York and New Jersey. In 2005, it was Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans.

The havoc left behind in New York and New Jersey has been documented by the visual media. Less evident was the damage and misery in Haiti and neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Nature does not discriminate; it does not distinguish between rich and poor. Nor does it distinguish between developed and undeveloped countries. It sweeps away all that lies in its path.

Large areas of New York were without electricity. Over 40,000 New Yorkers were homeless as a result of Hurricane Sandy. This made the news.

However, disaster-stricken Haiti has been hit much harder. More than 200,000 Haitians already in makeshift homes as a result of the 2010 earthquake are now homeless.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti could be made worse by floods. Haiti, which is an agricultural economy, has also suffered a large loss of crops. This will lead to food shortages compounding the misery of an already impoverished nation.

Meteorologists have commented that more hurricanes are occurring late in the season, even after their “normal” season has ended. A 2008 study had pointed out that the Atlantic hurricane season seems to be starting earlier and lasting longer.

Normally, there are 11 named Atlantic storms. The past two years have seen 19 and 18 named storms. This year, with one month to go, there are already 19 named storms.

It is not only in the Atlantic that the climate is changing. Earlier this month, the Meteorological Office informed us that, in Malta, October 2012 was the sixth hottest month on record since 1922. With an increased frequency we too are witnessing more intense storms, which are playing havoc with an ill-prepared infrastructure.

The civil protection issues resulting from flooding will be hopefully addressed through storm-water relief projects substantially funded by the EU. While this will go a long way towards reducing damage to life and limb, it addresses the effects while leaving the causes of flooding largely unaddressed.

Malta’s climate change adaptation strategy, adopted some time ago, had pointed towards the issue of rainwater harvesting, which has not and still is not given due importance in new developments both those on a large scale as well as those on a much smaller scale.

The lack of application of rainwater harvesting measures through the construction of appropriately-sized water cisterns is an important contributor to the flooding of Malta’s roads and the overflowing public sewers whenever a storm comes our way. This occurs irrespective of the severity of the storm. Addressing this cause would go a long way towards reducing the volume of storm water that has to be contained to prevent it from causing damage.

By now it should be clear that there is no political will to address the issue as such a measure would entail taking action against developers (large and small) who did not provide rainwater harvesting facilities in their quest to increase profits (or reduce costs) in their land development projects. This has been the unfortunate practice for the past 50 years. Old habits die hard.

The expenses required to tackle a principal cause of the problem has been shifted from the developers onto the public purse, this including the EU funds being utilised. This expense has to make good for the accumulated (and accumulating) incompetence in rainwater management by focusing on the effects but simultaneously ignoring the causes.

Therefore, when one speaks on the devastating impacts of nature and climate change it should be realised that some of these impacts are being amplified as a result of the way in which successive governments have mismanaged this country’s resources.

The impacts of flooding are the ones which leave a lasting impression due to their detailed documentation by the media. There are, however, other impacts that are as important and in respect of which a public debate is conspicuously absent. I refer in particular to the impact of rising temperatures on agriculture and health.

Higher temperatures will slowly change our agriculture as the type of crops that can withstand higher temperatures are generally different from those which are currently prevalent. In addition, higher temperatures means that we will have some alien insects flying around, some of which are disease carriers.

Not discussing these issues does not mean that they will disappear. It only means that we are ill-prepared for the inevitable impacts and the necessary changes.

There is much to be done. So far, we have barely scratched the surface.

Published in The Times of Malta Saturday November 10, 2012

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Kif tagħmel …………… jagħmlulek

 30 ta’ Diċembru 2009
 

 

Naħseb li lkoll kemm aħna konxji li l-klima qiegħda tinbidel. L-is­ta­ġuni ma tafx iżjed meta jibdew jew meta jispiċċaw. Fis-sajf sħana kbira li dejjem iżżid. Xita qawwija f’ħin qasir f’kull żmien tas-sena b’għargħar aktar ta’ spiss. Qegħdin niffaċċjaw estre­mi ta’ temp. Dawn huma wħud mill-indikazzjonijiet li għandna f’Malta li l-klima qiegħda tin­bidel.

F’pajjiżi oħrajn it-temp inbidel ukoll. Insegwu dak li qed jiġri fuq il-televiżjoni, bħall-għargħar riċenti f’Cumbria fit-Tramuntana tal-Ingilterra jew l-urugan Kat­rina li ħarbat l-istat ta’ New Orleans fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fi tmiem Awwissu, 2005. Inkella l-urugani spissi fl-istat Ameri­kan ta’ Florida. Anki fl-Ewropa segwejna każi estremi ta’ temp kemm f’dik li hi temperatura kif ukoll għargħar ikkawżat diret­ta­ment mix-xita inkella mill-faw­ran ta’ xmajjar.

Il-parti l-kbira tax-xjenzjati jaqblu li dan kollu hu prinċi­pal­ment ir-riżultat akkumulat tul is-snin ta’ emissjonijiet mill-ħruq ta’ żjut u faħam biex il-bniedem jipproduċi l-enerġija, kif ukoll mit-trasport u minn proċessi industrijali. Naqsu wkoll il-foresti f’kull parti tad-dinja biex jittieħed l-injam tagħ­hom għall-ħatab, għall-bini ta’ djar jew għal xi użu ieħor bħall-bini tax-xwieni fi żminijiet oħ­rajn. Il-foresti naqsu wkoll biex żdiedet l-art għall-agrikoltura.

B’hekk id-dinja qiegħda żżomm is-sħana tax-xemx bħal f’serra bir-riżultat li t-tem­pe­ra­tura madwarna qiegħda togħla ftit ftit. Dan iżda ma jseħħx bl-istess mod kullimkien. Ix-xjen­zati huma tal-opinjoni li jekk it-temperatura taqbeż dik tal-bidu taż-żmien industrijali b’aktar minn 2 gradi Celsius, iseħħu tibdiliet kbar fil-klima. Tibdiliet li ħdejhom dak li seħħ s’issa jitqies bħala insinjifikanti. Rap­preżentanti ta’ gżejjer kemm fil-Paċifiku kif ukoll fil-Karibew qegħ­din jinsistu li l-limitu mas­simu għandu jkun 1.5 gradi Celsius fuq it-temperatura taż-żmien pre-industrijali. Dan qegħdin jgħiduh għax huma diġà qegħdin iħossu wieħed mill-effetti tal-bidla fil-klima. Il-livell tal-baħar qed jogħla u dawk li joqogħdu f’uħud minn dawn il-ġżejjer diġà qed ikoll­hom idabbru rashom. L-ewwel refuġjati tal-klima fil-fatt kienu r-residenti tal-gżejjer Carteret fil-Papua New Guinea liema gżejjer diġà bdew jiġu mgħot­tijin bl-ilma baħar. Sal-2015, hu kkalkolat li dawn il-gżejjer ikunu mgħarrqin kompletament bħala riżultat tal-bdil gradwali fil-livell tal-baħar.

Fl-Afrika wkoll it-temp inbidel drastikament. F’uħud mill-pajjiżi Afrikani bħas-Somalja, l-Etjopja u l-Eritrea hemm nixfa kbira u dan bħala riżultat ta’ nuqqas ta’ xita fuq perjodu twil ta’ żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-agrikoltura mhix tirrendi u n-nies m’għandhiex x’tiekol. Iffaċ­ċati b’dan, in-nies qegħdin jitil­qu minn dawn il-pajjiżi u qegħ­din jemigraw lejn pajjiżi oħrajn. Jaslu sal-Libja jew xi pajjiż ieħor bħall-Marokk u mbagħad jaq­smu lejn l-Ewropa b’numru minn­hom jispiċċaw Malta. Numru mhux żgħir minn dawn l-immigranti li f’pajjiżna nsej­ħul­hom “immigranti illegali” huma vittmi tal-bidla fil-klima.

Il-bidla fil-klima lilna f’Malta tista’ teffettwana b’mod dras­ti­ku wkoll u dan fi żmien mhux wisq ’il bogħod. In-nuqqas ta’ xita u l-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar se jkollhom effett dirett fuq l-agrikultura. L-ilma tal-pjan na­qas sewwa kemm fil-kwantità kif ukoll fil-kwalità. Dan riżultat tal-‘boreholes’, kemm dawk legali kif ukoll dawk illegali. Jekk ikun baqa’ ilma tal-pjan, dan se jkompli jiġi mgħarraq għax ikun diġà sar salmastru hekk kif il-livell tal-baħar jogħla ftit ftit. L-ilma ma jkunx iżjed tajjeb biex jintuża la għax-xorb, la għat-tisqija u lanqas għall-industrija għax ikun wisq mie­laħ. Ikun jeħtieg li jiġi trattat bir-‘reverse osmosis’ jew xi pro­ċess ieħor li jkollu bżonn ħafna enerġija. Bla ilma, kif nafu, ma jista’ jsir xejn.

Dakinhar li pajjiżna jirrealizza li ġie wiċċ imbwiċċ ma’ din il-prob­lema, dawk minna li jkunu għadhom jgħixu hawn, ikunu fl-istess pożizzjoni ta’ dawn l-“im­migranti illegali”, refuġjati tal-klima huma wkoll u jibdew ifittxu x’imkien ieħor fejn jistgħu jgħixu.

Tgħid ikunu lesti li jaċċettaw li jkunu trattati bħall-immigranti li jaslu Malta illum: li jkunu msakkrin, bl-għassa u b’deten­zjo­ni ta’ 18-il xahar imposta fuq­hom mingħajr ma qatt għamlu ħsara lil ħadd?

Wara kollox mhux kif tagħ­mel jagħmlulek?