Saturday, November 30, 2013

Inland states most likely to ignore climate hazards

Bobby Magill in the Journal Star via Climate Central: Inland states and some along the southeast coast are doing less than most other states to prepare for natural disasters influenced by human-caused climate change, a Columbia Law School report says.

The report, which ranks the states based on how their federally mandated hazard mitigation plans address climate change, shows that land-locked states are doing the least to prepare for climate change, while many coastal states vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges are doing the most to prepare. The plans are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order for states to receive federal disaster mitigation funding.

Coastal states have been the quickest to develop plans for dealing with climate change-related disasters and hazards because of increasing awareness of the relationship between sea level rise and climate change, the report concludes. The results showing that inland states' hazard plans do not discuss climate change suggest that there is a need to better communicate the connection between climate change and drought, extreme heat and flooding, the report says.

...Eighteen states, including Delaware, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Wyoming and others, were ranked as Category 1, meaning that their plans either mention nothing about climate change or discuss climate change with confusing, dismissive or inaccurate information. Colorado, California, New York and eight others that included the most thorough and accurate discussion of climate change were ranked as Category 4, while the remaining states fell between the two categories.

“By identifying the most thorough plans that have been prepared, we hope to provide planners in other states with models that can serve as a place to start in upgrading their own plans,” said Michael B. Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law, which conducted the survey....

A willet at the beach, head in the sand, shot by Korall, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Data for development: revolution kicks off in Côte d’Ivoire

Mico Tatalovic in We live in exciting times. Hoards of data collected routinely by big telecom companies — but which are currently sitting idle — are about to hit the research community and be used for as yet un-thought of applications. The UN high-level panel recently called for a ‘data revolution’ to underpin the planning and evaluation of the post-2015 development goals.

A taste of what might be in store was presented at the European Development Days meeting in Brussels, Belgium, this week (26 November). Mobile communications company Orange has huge amounts of data on traffic between its mobile masts, and in 2012 it decided to release some of that data from Côte d’Ivoire to researchers worldwide in a challenge to make use of that data. It anticipated 40 or 50 project applications and got 260 instead, though few came from African countries or Côte d’Ivoire itself.

The results, first released in May this year, were astounding. What had been — and largely remains — locked-up data, was analysed and presented by scientists to reveal a host of information with development applications.

Examples include better understanding of disease epidemics and their control, better traffic and parcel delivery planning, and insights into social divisions.

...And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Orange is now in talks with universities and ministries in Côte d’Ivoire about following up with a closer analysis of some of that data. It is also planning to repeat the experiment in another African country though it won’t reveal which one yet. And there is so much other data it has stored away, from, say, the age of mobile-phone users to information on solar radiation intensity at its solar-powered masts across the country....

A disguised cell phone tower in Capetown, shot by Dillon Marsh, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Climate change disproportionately hurting Pakistan's women

Emily Atkin in Think Progress: If Pakistan’s coastal region of Sindh is any indication, the adverse effects of climate change in developing countries will not be gender neutral.

The women in Sindh — a province of Pakistan with a population of approximately 42 million – have been socializing less, walking further, and encountering health issues due to shortages in fuel wood and fresh water, according to a report released Thursday by the women’s resource center Shirkat Gah. The shortages, the report said, are undoubtedly due to climate change.

“The changes in weather patterns and intensity of heat and cold have changed working patterns of people, especially female farmers,” Khawar Mumtaz, the chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, told The Express Tribune. “Substantive cropping was replaced with cash crops. [The] second shift was from natural fertilizers to chemicals, pesticides and hybrid seeds. Forests were replaced with banana cultivation, and dams resulted in decrease of fish.”

Mumtaz told the Express Tribune that women in the region serve not only as workers, but as primary caregivers to their families. Because they must walk farther distances to fetch water and collect wood, they have less time for their families and friends, and more often end up with health issues because of it. In the province’s town of Kharo Chhan, the only girls’ primary school is facing a shortage of female teachers. Approximately 15 percent of the girls enrolled in primary schools there actually attend.

The report, among other things, suggests government initiatives that could teach women how to purify or filter water in order to decrease workloads....

Crowd of PTI during Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Protest Against Drones, Peshawar. Shot by FSCEM45212, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Somalia: Puntland says the federal government did not help the people affected by Cyclone 3A via Dalsan Radio (Mogadishu): The minister for planning and international relation of the Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland Mohamud Aydid Dirir has said they have got no aid from the Federal Government of Somalia.

The Federal Government of Somalia has already pledged one million dollars to help the people in Bari and Nugal regions where the Cyclone 3A seriously hit early in November.

"We have not got anything from the federal government." Mr Dirir told the BBC Somali Service. "That was a pledge on the mouth. Not real one." he added.

The minister blamed the Mogadishu government for not taking its responsibility to help its citizens affected by the national disaster....

Locator map of Puntland, created by Reqrezentin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Days of big rain

Henrylito D. Tacio in the Sun Star (Philippines): ... Typhoons Sendong and Pablo were only a preview. Both were super typhoons, thus the widespread devastation they caused to Northern Mindanao (particularly the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan) and Southern Mindanao.

The recent typhoon Yolanda is a precursor of the things to come. In his weather website, Dr. Jeff Masters noted: “(Yolanda is) the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history.”

The US-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) recorded Yolanda’s average strength at 195 miles per hour (314kilometers per hour) at landfall. It shattered the previous record set in 1969 by Hurricane Camille, which carried 190 mph (306 kph) winds when it landed in Mississippi in the United States.

On record, Yolanda is the fourth strongest tropical cyclone in world history in terms of overall strength, according to Masters. The all-time record is still held by super typhoon Nancy in 1961 at 215 mph (346 kph), followed by super typhoon Violet in the same year at 205 mph (323 kph), and super typhoon Ida in 1958 with 200 mph (322 kph).

There will be more super typhoons to come – thanks to climate change. Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines, a report released by World Bank earlier this year notes: “Climate change is expected to lead to more intense typhoons, whose storm surges will be superimposed on higher sea levels.”...

Typhoon Haiyan on November 7, 2013, from NASA

Friday, November 29, 2013

China desert lake shrinks by one-third in 13 years

Space Daily via AFP: China's largest desert freshwater lake has shrunk by one-third in the last 13 years, state media said Thursday, as the country's breakneck modernisation continues to damage the environment.

Northern China's Hongjiannao Lake covers 32.16 square kilometres (12.86 sq miles), less than half its size in 1969 and two-thirds of its area in 2000, Xinhua news agency said.

"Experts said human activities including reservoir construction, mining and agricultural irrigation are the main causes for the sad phenomenon," Xinhua added.

The lake, in Shaanxi province on its border with Inner Mongolia, could vanish completely in a few decades, state media has previously claimed.

China's rapid industrialisation has caused massive environmental damage and is a major source of discontent...

Philippines expected to remain resilient despite super typhoon

Simone Orendain in Voice of America: In the Philippines, there are early signs that the overall economic impact of Typhoon Haiyan will likely be less than other storms in recent years. But officials say there remains a dire need to immediately focus on reviving farming areas and providing jobs to communities directly in the storm's path.

Three weeks after the super typhoon battered the central Philippines, government figures show damages cost $635 million. The losses are about $300 million less than those of Typhoon Bopha, which struck the southeastern Philippines late last year.

This week, the National Economic Development Authority said the economy grew by 7 percent in the third quarter. The agency says in this part of the world the Philippines had the second best economy after China. But the typhoon-affected regions, which contribute 12 percent to the gross domestic product, are expected to knock the year’s growth back by half a percent.

Philippine Central Bank Governor Armando Tetangco says there will be a negative impact for the next three months.

He said, “But the counterforce to that would be the increased government spending for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Looking at the national income accounts, one would see that government spending, particularly infra spending, give a significant boost.”...

US Plains young wheat crop at risk from arctic blast

Reuters: Bitter cold conditions expected to move through the U.S. Plains wheat belt next week will put the young crop at risk of winterkill if the region does not see snow before then, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.

World Weather Inc meteorologist Drew Lerner said a Canadian cold front is heading to the Plains wheat country, Kansas to Colorado, mid- to late next week. Temperatures could dip to below zero Fahrenheit (-18 C) by next Friday.

But the chances of the region getting snow before then are good, Lerner said. The snow provides a layer of insulation to the crop, protecting it from damage. The U.S. weather model is forecasting heavy snows for the Plains and western Midwest next week.

...Over the next few days, the Plains winter wheat belt will warm up into the range of 50 to 60s degrees F, bringing some of the crop out of dormancy in the southern portion of the belt, he said. The crop will benefit from the moisture and the transition to colder temperatures late next week should be gradual, easing crop stress brought on by the frigid temperatures....

Claude Monet's 1891 painting of stacks of wheat in the snow at sunset

Typhoons spreading Fukushima fallout

Australia News Network: Typhoons that hit Japan each year are contributing to the spread of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the country's waterways, researchers say. A joint study by France's Climate and Environmental Science laboratory (LSCE) and Tsukuba University in Japan shows contaminated soil gets washed away by the high winds and rain and deposited in streams and rivers.

"There is a definite dispersal towards the ocean," LSCE researcher Olivier Evrard said Wednesday. The typhoons "strongly contribute" to soil dispersal, he said, though it can be months later, after the winter snow melts, that contamination actually passes into rivers.

An earthquake-sparked tsunami slammed into the Fukushima plant in March 2011, sending reactors into meltdown and sparking the worst atomic accident in a generation. After the accident, a large number of radioactive particles were flung into the atmosphere, dispersing caesium particles which typically cling to soils and sediment.

Studies have shown that soil erosion can move the radioactive varieties of cesium-134 and 137 from the northern mountains near Fukushima into rivers, and then out into the Pacific Ocean. Last year, the radioactive content of Japan's rivers dropped due to fairly moderate typhoons. However, more frequent and fierce storms in 2013 have brought a new flood of caesium particles....

Reactor Unit 3 at Fukushima after 2011's earthquake and tsunami damage, shot by Digital Globe.jpg, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Winter storm moves north as Macy's waits to make parade call

Brian K. Sullivan in Bloomberg: The winter storm along the U.S. East Coast that disrupted holiday travel plans and prompted speculation over whether the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature its trademark balloons was forecast to move into southeastern Canada overnight.

The system that brought wind-blown rain to cities including Boston and New York was located just east of northern Maine, according to a National Weather Service advisory at about 10 p.m. yesterday. Light snow that fell along the western side of the Appalachians has been gradually tapering off while heavy rain has moved away from most of the East Coast.

As of 1:20 a.m. New York time today, 14 flights were canceled around the U.S., compared with 307 yesterday, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking company. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Winter storm warnings remained in effect for parts of the central and southern Appalachians, northern Pennsylvania, the Adirondacks in upstate New York and northern Vermont. A flood warning was in place for central Maine, according to the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The decision on whether the giant balloons will join the lineup is made based on real-time, on-the-scene weather data, not via forecasts,” said Holly Thomas, a spokeswoman for the 87th Macy’s parade. “We are closely monitoring the weather as we do each year.”

Lingering gusts of wind in New York would bring difficult conditions for crews controlling balloons for today’s parade in Manhattan, said Rob Carolan, owner of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire....

From the 2008 Macy's parade, shot from the Empire State Building by Krokodyl, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Africa's best hope of combating climate change is to share knowledge

Richard Munang at "Climate change hub" at the Guardian (UK): ...The growing awareness of the impact of climate change has resulted in a large number of agencies, organisations, research institutes, and political bodies seeking to understand the patterns of vulnerability and how to adapt. While much information exists on successfully adapting to climate change's effects, it is often fragmented and difficult to access for those who need it. In African countries, there are still significant barriers and constraints to adaptation efforts.

The gaps in knowledge include how to conduct climate change impact assessment and vulnerability analysis, finding and implementing suitable policies and plans for improved resilience, experimenting through pilot projects, demonstration of successful initiatives, full scale implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of adaptation strategies that have been undertaken.

Access to relevant and up to date technical information is a better base for efficient and targeted policies. More information strengthens institutions, which in turn make the policies, laws and regulations better fitted to prepare for future challenges. Many lessons have been learned and it is time to more effectively use the knowledge that has been built through experience and scientific analysis. Successful adaptation strategies require custom-made solutions to local and regional challenges. When such information is lacking, it is more difficult to prepare for and react to climate change induced threats and crisis. There is an urgent need for access to relevant knowledge and technical resources, as well as the capacity to utilize these resources where they are needed.

The Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKnet) is a platform that aims to build a shared knowledge base to help build an innovative community, to enhance adaptive actions through sharing lessons, knowledge and information. The ministers also recognised the growing dialogue on climate change adaptation that bridges the continent by formally highlighting a conference attended by nearly 800 participants including farmers, development professionals, policymakers, private sector leaders amongst many. The First Africa Food Security and Adaptation Conference, held in Nairobi on 20 and 21 August 2013 clearly demonstrated the link between adaptation and food security, and the resulting conclusions and recommendations from the conference were endorsed and supported by the ministers....

Mass vaccinations for children in typhoon-hit Philippines

Terra Daily via AFP: A mass vaccination programme has been launched in Philippine communities that were devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan to protect children against measles and polio, UN agencies said Wednesday.

The campaign began this week with 30,000 children being vaccinated in Tacloban city, one of the places hardest hit when Haiyan claimed thousands of lives nearly three weeks ago, the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF and World Health Organisation said.

"The children of Tacloban need all the protection they can get right now," UNICEF emergency response coordinator Angela Kearney said in a joint statement by the agencies. "Disease is a silent predator, but we know how to prevent it and we will do everything that we can."

Sigrun Roesel, team leader of the WHO's Philippine immunisation programme, said the sometimes crowded and insanitary conditions at evacuation centres were potential breeding grounds for disease. "Measles is a dangerous disease for young children, who could then catch pneumonia and die from it, especially if they are malnourished," Roesel said.

She said the measles virus was a particular concern because it could easily be transmitted through coughing and sneezing.

An electron micrograph of a measles virus from the CDC

FAO warns of the risk of a double tragedy in the Philippines

A press release from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization: Immediate assistance from the international community for Philippine farmers is critical to avoid a double tragedy befalling rural survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, FAO announced today.

FAO is calling on the donor community to urgently step forward and provide more than $11 million to get money to rural people to help clean and clear agricultural land and de-silt irrigation canals in the aftermath of the devastation caused by the typhoon.

The Philippine Department of Agriculture has requested that FAO support this cash-for-work scheme, covering more than 150 000 hectares and some 80 kilometres of communal irrigation canals. Placed in perspective, it takes 10 person-days to clear just one hectare of farmland. Funding is also needed for some 1 400 communal irrigation pumps.  The call for assistance is in addition to the $20 million already requested by FAO to help typhoon-affected farmers plant, fertilize, irrigate and maintain their crops to ensure the next harvests in 2014.

“We are in a race against time,” said Rodrigue Vinet, Senior Officer in charge of FAO’s programme in the Philippines. “There is an immediate need for resources to help farmers clear their land and plant their crops. Therefore, we need to make the required purchases now and provide substantial resources directly to farmers to help them through this period.”

FAO is calling on the international donor community to recognize the urgency of the situation and contribute to the government’s efforts in meeting this critical recovery initiative without delay....

An aerial view of Tacloban on November 24, 2013, shot by DFID - UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

North West Australia cyclone increase may have been caused by Asian forest fires

ABC (Australia): CSIRO research into the past and future climate of North West Australia's Pilbara region has uncovered a period of increased cyclone activity that may have been caused by Asian forest fires.PrintEmailPermalinkShare

When CSIRO research scientist Dr Don McFarlane looked at the Pilbara's climate history right back to 1910, there was one period of wet weather that really stood out. From 1996 to 2001 the region had an extraordinary period of cyclone activity.

"The period between about 1996 and 2001 was very much wetter and a lot more tropical cyclones came through that period," he says. It was the kind of climate change that you didn't have to be a meteorologist to notice.

"It had about a 50 percent increase in its average rainfall for that long period. And I think those people that were in the Pilbara at that time probably remember that period; a lot of the rivers were running," he says.

Dr McFarlane says research from the Indian Ocean Climate Initiative has indicated that air pollution from Asia may be the explanation for this anomalous weather. "Some of the wetting that has been occurring in the '90s and early 2000s might have been a result of forest fires and pollution generally coming down from that South East Asian or even East Asian area," he says....

Cyclone Narelle off the coast of Western Australia, January 11, 2013, shot by NASA

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Typhoon cleanup offers economic lifeline in the Philippines

Chun Han Wong in the Wall Street Journal: On a side street just off this city's eastern coastline, dozens of residents scurried in and out of a sprawling field of debris on Tuesday, working to remove rubble left behind by the deadliest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines.

The task before them, and their city, appeared herculean. Rubble here is piled 3 to 4 feet high, and complicated by drooping power cables and jagged pieces of smashed wood and metal. It is a scene still common across Tacloban more than two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the city and its neighboring districts.

The tons of putrefying waste that remain, despite a concerted cleanup effort by state agencies, pose an infrastructural and public-health challenge for a city that just started shifting gears from disaster relief to reconstruction. But the cleanup, officials and aid workers say, also offers an opportunity to jump-start the city's typhoon-ravaged economy and heal wounds in this tightknit community.

"In addition to contributing to the humanitarian effort, the debris removal is also a critical component of economic recovery," said Haoliang Xu, a senior United Nations official who leads the U.N. Development Program's Asian Pacific operations.

A temporary jobs program will pay up to 200,000 people to clear rubble in Tacloban and its neighboring municipalities, injecting cash into the local economy and helping "communities to recover their lives and livelihoods," Mr. Xu said....

Debris in the streets of Tacloban, November 14, shot by Trocaire, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

High-intensity 'megafires' a new global danger

Mark Snowiss in Voice of America: In many parts of the world, the prevalence of massive, high-intensity wildfires that were rare only a couple decades ago has been increasing at an alarming rate.

Australia’s 2009 Black Saturday fires, the deadliest civil disaster in that country’s history, killed 173 people, destroyed more than 2,030 houses and incinerated whole towns. In 2010, several hundred fires in Russia burned about 2.3 million hectares and covered Moscow with toxic smoke.

Over the past several years, similar catastrophic wildfires have occurred in numerous countries, including Greece, Israel, Indonesia, Canada, Botswana and Brazil. In the United States, at least nine states have suffered their worst wildfires on record since 1998.

While ignition sources vary (some of the fires were set deliberately for agricultural purposes), fire scientists say most so-called megafires stem from a combination of climate change-induced drought, land use and human mismanagement that has combined to turn landscapes into tinderboxes.

"It’s almost like the return of the ancient plague - we’ve recreated the conditions that make massive fires possible, and they are revisiting us in very harmful ways," said Arizona State University's Stephen Pyne.

The term “megafire” was coined about a dozen years ago in the United States to illustrate the fact that only 1-2 percent of all wildfires had come to account for more than 85 percent of costs and burned area. Similar trends are happening elsewhere....

An aerial view of a 2009 forest fire in Alberta, shot by Cameron Strandberg, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Acidifying oceans alarm hundreds of scientists

Environment News Service: Climate change is causing the world’s oceans to acidify at rates not seen for the last 55 million years, and the only way to moderate this danger is to reduce human emissions of carbon dioxide, conclude 540 scientists from 37 countries in a new report.

Their conclusion is the outcome of the Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World that took place in Monterey, California in September 2012. The findings of these experts were presented in a report to the Conference on Climate Change that took place in Warsaw from November 11 to 22.

Reflecting the latest research on the subject, the report was prepared by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Scientific Committee on Ocean Research  and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.

The scientists expect “substantial changes” in marine ecosystems, marine biodiversity and coral reefs that have the potential to affect food security. They warn that seashell fisheries could lose some US$130 billion annually, if current CO2 emissions remain unchanged.

It emerges that all the oceans, which together absorb close to one quarter of the CO2 emissions generated by human activity, have experienced an overall 26 percent rise in acidity since the dawn of the industrial age.

Twenty-four million tonnes of CO2 are absorbed by the oceans every day and, if current emission rates are maintained, the level of the ocean acidity worldwide will rise by 170 percent before 2100, compared to the pre-industrial age....

A cliff vista shot by psyberartist, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

India's east coast braces as severe cyclone advances

Jatindra Dash in Reuters via the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Indian authorities evacuated thousands of villagers living in low-lying areas, suspended fishing operations and put disaster response teams on standby on Wednesday as a severe cyclone hurtled towards its eastern coast.

Cyclone Lehar - the third powerful storm to hit Andhra Pradesh in seven weeks - is moving in from the Bay of Bengal and forecast to make landfall near the city of Machilipatnam on Thursday afternoon with wind speeds of up to 170 kmph (105 mph).

India's weather office predicts Lehar will also bring storm surges and heavy rains and will damage mud-and-thatch homes, disrupt power and communication networks and inundate farmland along the state's northern coast.

An alert has been issued in the districts of East and West Godavari, Guntur and Krishna, said local officials, warning people to remain indoors. "Some 15,000 people have been evacuated from East Godavari," said C. Parthasarathy, commissioner of state disaster management department.

He said weather conditions had been normal in the area during the day and many coastal inhabitants were reluctant to move to cyclone shelters on higher ground, but he expected more people to be evacuated by the evening....

Cyclone Lehar on November 25, 2013, via NASA

Putting a price on nature would be disastrous

Nick Dearden in the "povertymatters" blog at the Guardian (UK): As UN climate negotiations rumbled on in Warsaw, big business came together with conservation groups in Edinburgh last week at the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital to put a price on nature.

The idea goes back to the Rio+20 conference in 2012, when a group of investors drafted the natural capital declaration. It argues that if we price everything nature gives us (wildlife, plants, forests, waterways, pollination, you name it), companies would think twice before destroying them.

Like advocates of the market for more than 200 years, the drafter of the declaration cannot abide the idea of "the commons" – commonly held resources whose reproduction and use is not subject to the laws of finance. The English enclosures, starting around the 15th century, and the Scottish clearances, from the 18th century, turned most common land in our country into private property, generating the profits that fed the Industrial Revolution.

In its quest for new markets today, finance is again intent on privatising the "global commons". The first step, as is clearly expressed in the natural capital declaration, is to start thinking of the environment as if it were capital, and to price it accordingly.

Surely few of the conservation groups gathered in Edinburgh last week would welcome the wholesale selling-off of nature. But either through desperation at the scale of the environmental crisis, or in ignorance of the political implications of the project, many are going along with this first step of putting a price on nature.

As one delegate told me: "We're just trying to value nature better." Ironically, it took an investment professional to point out the dangers that seemed to have escaped so many NGOs. "Be very careful," he warned. "Once you put a price on nature in order to protect something, you will find someone will pay that price in order to destroy it."...

An 1889 estate map for Moorooka Park, Brisbane. This was created for a land auction showing a plan of allotments to be sold on the 2nd March, 1889 by W.J. Hooker, Auctioneers, Brisbane

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Philippines typhoon aid begins transition to long-term recovery

Steve Herman at Voice of America: Thirteen million people affected. Four million of them displaced, with one million homes destroyed. Two-and-a-half million individuals in need of food aid. And about 7,000 people confirmed dead or missing. That is the toll from the typhoon that hit the central Philippines November 8. The government and international agencies are activating the recovery and reconstruction process.

This time-lapse sequence of Tacloban’s airport shows aid arriving and departing from the destroyed city, which is a major hub for delivering food, water and other supplies to more isolated communities. It took days to get aid moving at this pace. Philippine and international agencies predict the emergency tempo will need to continue for 18 months.

Many people may have had the impression “the government was not doing anything” for the first few days, acknowledged presidential spokesman Edward Lacierda. “We are an archipelago. We had to make sure that everything was done in the proper way, not to mention the fact that really this storm surge the effect on Tacloban was quite huge and devastating.”

There are concerns that the Philippines' notorious corruption could skim off resources and hamper the long-term recovery. But President Beningo Aquino has made fighting graft a focus of his administration and hopes to reassure donors with top-level oversight. Just three government agencies will handle all of the donated funds, and high-ranking officials will track spending and publish accounting reports online....

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft sits parked at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Nov. 15, 2013, before departing to support Operation Damayan in Tacloban, Philippines

Mental trauma haunts Philippines typhoon survivors

Terra Daily via AFP: ....As the rescue and emergency phase of helping the survivors winds down, medical and social workers are appealing for trauma experts to counsel typhoon survivors ... But like all other aspects of the response to the disaster, the scale of the psychological needs is overwhelming.

More than 5,200 people have been confirmed killed and another 1,600 are missing after Haiyan tore across some of the country's poorest islands, generating tsunami-like waves that left dozens of towns in ruins. About four million people have been left homeless and 10 million affected, according to the government.

Amid such widespread mental trauma, the Department of Health has been able to deploy just 21 psychiatrists and psychologists, according to Bernardo Vicente, director of the government's National Center for Mental Health. "Definitely, we don't," Vicente told AFP when asked if there were enough professional counsellors available to treat traumatised survivors in the disaster zones.

Vicente pointed out there were just 600 registered psychiatrists nationwide, most of whom worked in large city hospitals and unable to abandon their duties to help the typhoon survivors. He said the health department's counsellors had worked only in Tacloban, a city of more than 220,000 people that was among the worst hit and where 1,727 people have been confirmed killed. Health workers in Tacloban say that support is not nearly enough, and the needs will likely grow as the focus of survivors shifts from putting up makeshift shelters and looking for food....

A destroyed house on the outskirts of Tacloban on Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils. (Photo: Eoghan Rice -  Trocaire / Caritas).  Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Wintry mess rolls East as big US travel day looms

Doug Stanglin and Doyle Rice in USA Today: A major, fast-moving winter storm stalking the East is bringing freezing temperatures, snow and sleet Tuesday from the Appalachians to New England and is on track to create delays at major East Coast airports at peak Thanksgiving travel time.

The system is expected to produce heavy rain along the East Coast from Atlanta through Boston, with sleet and freezing rain farther inland, from the Mid-Atlantic and along most of the Appalachians.

While moving quickly as it rolls out of the nation's midsection, the timing puts it smack on the East Coast as travelers head out for the holiday.

The stretch of wintry weather includes some of the country's busiest airports — New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Charlotte, N.C.

Only about 60 flights had been canceled nationwide as of 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, according to FlightStats. A few dozen delays were being reported at a handful of big airports – though nothing that would be considered extreme by winter-weather standards....

Denver International Airport after a 2006 snowfall, shot by ashleyniblock, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Agriculture can unlock Africa's transformation even in a changing climate via the UN Economic Commission for Africa: A senior official of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa today shed new light on the agriculture and climate change nexus, pointing to new avenues through which the sector can become the driving force behind Africa's transformation agenda.

In opening remarks at a panel discussion during the Africa Day event on the sidelines of the 19thsession of the U.N-led international conference on climate change in Poland, Ms. Fatima Denton said that even in a changing climate, the agricultural sector still retains its full potential to lift millions of Africans out of poverty, and to take the driver's seat on the continent's development train.

Ms. Fatima Denton who is the Coordinator of the African Policy Centre and Officer in Charge of New Initiatives Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), facilitated the panel discussion.

She said that agriculture and climate change are linked in important ways as climate change has significant effects on agriculture, adding that the negative impacts of climate will further erode the capacity of poor farmers and food producers to adapt to the changing climatic conditions, that is, climate variability and climate change.

She explained that"technical and financial support are needed to address damages caused by climate change and to support adaptation activities of African farmers",and that such efforts can be implemented through a framework that stimulates and delivers new low carbon emission pathways in the agricultural sector and along the entire food value chains...

A farm on the outskirts of Bakau, Gambia, shot by Radosław Botev

Progress on loss-and-damage and tech transfer at COP19

Bhrikuti Rai in The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, have made progress in several areas, including the contentious issue of loss-and-damage as well as the opening of the Climate Technology Centre and Network, which can now respond to requests from developing countries for advice and assistance on the transfer of technology.

“As nations put in the foundations, walls and ceiling of a new, wide-ranging and universal climate agreement, the Climate Technology Centre and Network represents a further building block towards that low-carbon future,” UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP executive-director Achim Steiner said in a press release (21 November).

...The conference also agreed to establish an international mechanism to provide the most-vulnerable populations with better protection against the loss and damage caused by extreme weather events and the slow onset events such as rising sea levels, with detailed work on the so-called Warsaw mechanism expected to start next year.

A recent report by UN University’s Institute of Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) has put a human face on the highly discussed mechanism on loss and damage by highlighting the constraints people face due to climate-change induced extreme weather events.

“The current levels of adaptation and mitigation efforts are insufficient, so we need to act with urgency to address the aftermath of powerful floods, typhoons, droughts and other extreme weather events,” says Koko Warner, lead author of the study and the head of the Environmental Migration, Social Vulnerability and Adaptation Section at UNU-EHS....

Downtown Warsaw, shot by Marek & Ewa Wojciechowscy, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Monday, November 25, 2013

Arctic at risk from invasive species

Christopher Ware in the Ecologist: As the Arctic ice melts, new shipping routes are opening up for tourism, mining and other commercial purposes, cutting journey times and fuel costs. And as Christopher Ware reports, a new danger arises - invasive alien species disrupting fragile Arctic ecosystems ...

More shipping is sailing through thawing Arctic waters, but while these northern routes might provide opportunities for tourism, mining and cutting down delivery times, the ships may also carry stowaways on board, introducing invasive species to pristine Arctic waters.

These findings were recently published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, from research by myself and colleagues at Tromsø University Museum in Norway, University of Tasmania in Australia, and Aarhus University in Denmark. The study focused on the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian high-Arctic - best known for being home to the northernmost post office in the world and some 3,000 polar bears.

....Wherever humans have travelled over the past centuries they have, deliberately or accidentally, taken creatures and plants with them. Exotic grasses now grow on Antarctica, European crabs live on both North American coasts, and Australia is filled with many millions of non-native rabbits, boar, toads and camels.

By filling and discharging ballast tanks, organisms are sucked in, transported and then deposited in other parts of the world, as are creatures that live on the bottom of the ship’s hull. Ships are responsible for most of world’s spread of invasive marine species.

Svalbard has experienced increased shipping over recent decades from tourism, scientific research, and mining. The ports there are far from the scale of those in Rotterdam or Singapore - there are more snow mobiles delivered to Svalbard every year than there are ships visiting - but nevertheless more than 500m tonnes of ballast water are discharged off Svalbard every year, from some of the 200 visiting vessels....

The tundra at Svalbard, shot by Billy Lindblom, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Winter Storm Boreas update: At least 13 deaths as ice, snow create dangerous travel in Plains, South

The Weather Channel: Winter Storm Boreas, already blamed for at least thirteen deaths, is a massive storm that will impact the nation from coast to coast with rain, snow, sleet, and ice during the busiest travel week of the year. It's bringing a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain to parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas on Monday then will trudge east this Thanksgiving week.

"Before this is over, Winter Storm Boreas will have impacted 100 million people," said The Weather Channel's winter weather expert Tom Niziol.

The National Weather Service said late Sunday night that a winter storm warning for most of North Texas had been replaced with a winter weather advisory through noon Monday. A mix of rain, light freezing rain and light sleet was expected, but meteorologist Steve Fano with the weather service's Dallas-Fort Worth office said the temperatures would not be as cold as initially forecast.

"I'm concerned about the area in Arkansas and through Memphis this afternoon, especially Little Rock," said Niziol. "We could get as much as a quarter inch of ice there today."

The storm dropped more than 10 inches of snow on parts of southwest Oklahoma overnight, and a winter weather advisory remained in place for much of the southeast of the state with freezing rain and sleet in the cards....

Wilson Bentley shot this 1902 photo of a snowflake

Indonesia reaction to climate talks

Dessy Sagita in the Jakarta Globe: Indonesia expressed mixed reactions following the conclusion of the Climate Change talks in Warsaw, Poland which reached a consensus on the commitment to a global climate change adaptation program.

“With the conclusion we can hope that UNFCCC (The United Nation’s Framework Conference on Climate Change) can provide the opportunity for the developing countries to end our vulnerability when it comes to the climate change adaptation program,” Ari Muhammad, the Secretary Working group on Adaptation to the National Council on Climate Change (DNPI), said.

...In the Warsaw text, negotiators notably replaced the word “commitments” for nationally-determined emissions cuts, with “contributions”. Ari said if developed countries want the developing countries to proceed with their climate change adaptation program, there must be a serious commitment from the richer countries to support their efforts. “Developing countries and the developed countries are in dire need of support and global commitment from developed countries,” he said.

Ari said there was one pressing issue that did not find a solution during the talks. “In adaptation, there are four main agendas — National Adaptation Plan, Lost and Damage, Nairobi Work Program and the Adaptation Committee — that we unfortunately did find an agreement in term[s] of lost and damage,” he said.

Developing countries including Indonesia, he said, believe that an institution specifically dealing with loss and damage because of climate change must be set up while the developed countries think that such an institution will not be necessary. “Regardless the effort to tackle the impact of climate change, loss and damage because of global warming have happened. Look at typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the Forest Fires in Riau,” he said...

Even If emissions are halted, carbon dioxide could warm earth for centuries

Science 2.0: ...Because carbon dioxide emissions persist for a long time, even a sudden halt today means the carbon dioxide already in Earth's atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years, according to a numerical model which suggests that it might take a lot less carbon than previously thought to reach the global temperature scientists deem unsafe.

The researchers simulated an Earth on which, after 1,800 billion tons of carbon entered the atmosphere, all carbon dioxide emissions suddenly stopped. Scientists commonly use the scenario of emissions screeching to a stop to gauge the heat-trapping staying power of carbon dioxide. Within a millennium of this simulated shutoff, the carbon itself faded steadily with 40 percent absorbed by Earth's oceans and landmasses within 20 years and 80 percent soaked up at the end of the 1,000 years.

By itself, such a decrease of atmospheric carbon dioxide should lead to cooling. But the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide took a divergent track on their computer.  In a numerical model, while carbon dioxide steadily dissipates, the absorption of heat the oceans decreases, especially in the polar oceans such as off of Antarctica (above). This effect has not been accounted for in existing research. Photo courtesy of Eric Galbraith, McGill University.

After a century of cooling, their model of the planet warmed by 0.37 degrees Celsius (0.66 Fahrenheit) during the next 400 years as the ocean absorbed less and less heat. While the resulting temperature spike seems slight, a little heat goes a long way here. Earth has warmed by only 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

...The lingering warming effect the researchers found, however, suggests that the 2-degree point may be reached with much less carbon, said first author Thomas Frölicher, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton's Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences under co-author Jorge Sarmiento, the George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering.

"If our results are correct, the total carbon emissions required to stay below 2 degrees of warming would have to be three-quarters of previous estimates, only 750 billion tons instead of 1,000 billion tons of carbon," said Frölicher, now a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. "Thus, limiting the warming to 2 degrees would require keeping future cumulative carbon emissions below 250 billion tons, only half of the already emitted amount of 500 billion tons."...

A 17th century painting by Jan Porcellis, "Shipping in Stormy Seas"

Vietnam to set up early warning system of diseases

Vietnam Net Bridge: Nguyen Huy Nga, Head of the Health Environmental Management Department under the Health Ministry, said at the fourth Asia-Pacific Conference on Public Health in the central coastal city of Nha Trang last week.

He said the country will also focus on identifying regions most vulnerable to climate change and establishing early warning and supervisory systems of climate change. Vietnam wants to work with countries and organisations in the region and the world at large in preventing and controlling diseases related to climate change, the official said.

Le Vu Anh, President of the Vietnam Public Health Association, said plans to mitigate impacts of climate change will be built based on scientific reports presented at the conference. The November 21-22 conference was organised by the Vietnam Public Health Association and the World Federation of Public Health Associations with the participation of 300 delegates from 32 countries.

The conference will hear reports on managing health risks, people’s vulnerability to climate change, climate change and its impacts on South Asian people’s health, and ecological factors decisive to human health....

Nha Trang Bay in Vietnam, shot by calflier001, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Glacier melt helps sea level forecasts

A press release from the University of Edinburgh: Studies of the Greenland ice sheet, including during a record warm summer, are helping scientists better understand how summer conditions affect its flow. This is important for predicting the future contribution made by melting glaciers to sea level rise.

Ice flows slowly from the centre of the Greenland Ice Sheet towards its margins, where it eventually melts or calves into the ocean as icebergs. Knowing how fast this movement occurs is essential for predicting the contribution of the ice sheet to sea level rise.

In summer, ice from the surface of a glacier melts and drains to the bed of the ice sheet, initially raising water pressure at the base and enabling the glacier to slide more quickly. It can, at times, move more than twice as fast in summer compared with winter, they found.

In 2012, an exceptionally warm summer caused the Greenland Ice Sheet to undergo unprecedented rates of melting. However, researchers have found that fast summer ice flow caused by significant melting is cancelled out by slower motion the following winter.

Scientists found that this is because large drainage channels, formed beneath the ice by the meltwater, helped to lower the water pressure, ultimately reducing the sliding speed. The discovery suggests that movement in the parts of the ice sheet that terminate on land are insensitive to surface melt rates.

It improves scientists’ understanding of how the ice sheet behaves and curbs error in estimating its contribution to sea level rise in a warming world. Scientists led by the University of Edinburgh gathered detailed GPS ice flow data and ice surface melt rates along a 115 km transect in west Greenland. They compared ice motion from an average melt year, 2009, with the exceptionally warm year of 2012....

A Greenland glacier, west of Tasiliaq, shot by Ville Miettinen, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Philippines typhoon aftermath: ’1.5 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition and close to 800,000 pregnant and nursing mothers need nutritional help’

The Raw Story via AFP: The number of people dead or missing after one of the world’s strongest typhoons struck the Philippines climbed towards 7,000 on Saturday, as the United Nations warned much more needed to be done to help desperate survivors.

The government’s confirmed death toll rose to 5,235, with another 1,613 people still missing more than two weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed entire towns across a long stretch of islands in the central Philippines.

Haiyan now rivals a 1976 tsunami on the southern island of Mindanao as the deadliest recorded natural disaster to strike the Philippines, which endures a never-ending battle against typhoons, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

The typhoon has triggered a giant, international aid effort, with dozens of countries and relief organisations rushing to deliver food, water and health services to more than four million people who lost their homes.

However UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, after visiting the disaster zones, warned the world was still not responding fast enough. “Much more needs to be done. Food, clean water and shelter remain the top priorities,” Amos said as a UN appeal for funds was raised from $301 million to $348 million....

A map show number of typhoon deaths in Eastern Visayas. Dark brown is more than a thousand, red is 500-999, pink is 100-499, light green is 50-99, dark green is 1-24. Light gray is zero. Created by Howard the Duck, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Pakistan and weather disasters

Rina Saeed Khan in the Express Tribune (Pakistan): Pakistan faces a range of threatening climate change impacts: sea water intrusion into the Indus Delta, valley glaciers melting in high mountain areas, the water scarcity/food security challenge and flooding caused by changing monsoon patterns. Things are getting so bad that for the past couple of years, Pakistan has been topping the list of the Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, an NGO that works on global equity issues. In 2010, Pakistan was listed as the number one country in the world affected by climate related disasters (due to the massive 2010 floods); in 2011, it was ranked as number three. This year’s report, released during the UN Climate Change talks currently being held in Warsaw, listed Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan as hardest hit by weather disasters in 2012.

The Global Climate Risk Index is compiled from figures supplied by the giant reinsurance company Munich Re. Haiti topped the list in this year’s Index because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that left 200,000 people homeless. The Philippines came second due to the large number of typhoons that are now battering its islands (it will be number one in next year’s list because of super-typhoon Haiyan). Pakistan came third because of its increasing vulnerability to floods and droughts.

The major issue at the conference in Warsaw, given the current Philippine disaster, is how to finance the ‘loss and damage’ caused by an increasingly unstable climate. Christoph Bals, policy director of Germanwatch, said: “The report illustrates that the self-help capacity of countries is being overwhelmed by the scale of the climate disasters they are facing. These are the countries that have contributed least to climate change because they have tiny emissions. Yet, they are the countries that are suffering most from it. Developed countries that have caused the problem have a moral responsibility to help.”

Muhammad Irfan Tariq, director general of the Climate Change Division of the Pakistan government, who helped launch the report in Warsaw, told the Climate News Network: “The report makes it clear that my country is already adversely affected by climate change. Loss of glaciers, floods and droughts are causing suffering and loss of life, not to mention the economic losses in a mainly agricultural economy … We are suffering so many other problems that it is not a priority for us.”...

US Army photo of Pakistan's 2010 flooding

Key points of the Warsaw consensus

Global Post via AFP: UN climate negotiators reached agreement in Warsaw on Saturday on cornerstone elements for the road to a new 2015 deal to curb global warming. Here are the main points:

Countries reaffirmed the core principle that the deal will be "applicable to all" 195 parties to the UN climate convention -- with no differentiation between rich and poor nations as under the pact's predecessor the Kyoto Protocol.

- Parties should volunteer targets for curbing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions "well in advance" of a Paris conference where the deal must be inked in two years' time.  Those "ready" to do so, must announce their contributions by the first quarter of 2015.

- A draft negotiating text must be ready by next year's round of talks in Lima, Peru.  In the runup to 2020, when the new pact must enter into force, countries are "urged" to do what they can to reduce emissions.

 A separate document agreed after a fortnight of heated negotiations, urges developed countries to deliver "increasing levels" of public finance for climate aid to poor and vulnerable countries up to 2020.  It also calls for "a very significant scale" of initial funding for the recently-formed Green Climate Fund, which is meant to disburse such aid.

 Negotiators agreed to set up the "Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage" to assist vulnerable countries deal with future harm from climate damages they claim are no longer avoidable.  These include sudden extreme weather events like storms, but also slow-onset events like land-encroaching sea level rise or desertification....

Adaptation to climate change a top priority for Egypt via Egypt Information Service: Egyptian Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Laila Eskander said that adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is a top priority for Egypt for being one of the most affected by these effects.

Minister Eskander - currently in Poland to attend the COP19 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - said that there are many common issues and visions for which we hope to reach a consensus before the challenges in face of us in light of the seriousness of the problem and the limited time available to reach a solution.

The Minister stressed that in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the convention, the required adjustments should be based on an accurate basis of scientific and comprehensive assessment for issues of adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, finance and capacity building.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

US military scales down aid efforts in Philippines

Manuel Mogato in Reuters: The U.S. military has began scaling back its emergency relief operations in the Philippines as work shifts to recovery and rehabilitation in typhoon-hit areas, a U.S. aid agency official said on Saturday.

Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm to make landfall this year, struck the central Philippines on November 8, killing more than 5,200 people, displacing 4.4 million and destroying an estimated 12 billion pesos ($274 million) worth of crops and infrastructure.

The U.S. Navy has pulled out its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, but still has ten C-130 aircraft delivering relief supplies. Last week, the United States had 50 ships and aircraft in the disaster zone.

Jeremy Konyndyk, director for Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said the U.S. military had started to reduce its presence to allow civilian aid agencies to step up efforts.

"What we have seen, particularly over the past week, is now civilian and private-sector commercial capacity has started coming back up again and that is taking the burden off of the military actors," Konyndyk told Reuters in an interview.

"You don't want the military playing that role in the long run, they are an interim bridging capacity there, but in the long run, that really needs to be civilian role."...

US Department of Defense photo of US aid effort in the Philippines after Haiyan (Yolanda)

Philippine official blames developed countries for worsening climate change Every time we attend this conference, I'm beginning to feel that we are negotiating on who is to live and who is to die." This was the statement of Mary Ann Lucille Sering, executive director of the Philippines Climate Change Commission (PCCC), when she delivered on November 20 her message to fellow delegates at the United Nations Climate Summit in Warsaw, Poland.

Sering, also PCCC's vice chairperson, expressed her frustration over the failure of signatories to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to meet the objective of the treaty. UNFCCC's objective is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."

"Nineteen years have passed since the convention came into force. And if we are to review our progress, would it be right for me to conclude that we've failed miserably?" Sering said.

..."Looking at science and how it manifested itself not only in Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), but also other events like Katrina in the United States, the heat wave in France, the wildfires in Australia, and other extreme events occurring after observed increased warming, should we not be all ashamed being here?" Sering said.

Sering blamed developed countries for their failure to meet their commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which had made extreme weather events such as Yolanda more frequent and intense.

"You see, if the developed countries had shown the leadership to reduce greenhouse gases at the onset of this convention, we, the most vulnerable, would not have to adapt. We would not have to ask or push for adaptation support," said Sering...

Powerful storm system blasts US West; 4 killed

Post-Bulletin via the Associated Press: The Western U.S. has been drenched by a powerful storm system that blasted several states and has led to four deaths. The fierce weather has prompted flooding and water rescues in California, stranded dozens of drivers in Nevada, caused hundreds of crashes among desert dwellers in Arizona and brought snow to northern New Mexico.

The system was expected to head east and reach the Atlantic coast by the middle of next week, but not before hitting the Southwest again with rain, snow and wind, forecasters said.

In California, the storms were linked to three deaths. In Oakland, one person was found dead near downed power lines and another crashed his vehicle into a tree while apparently trying to avoid debris in the road, news reports and officials said. Also, a 52-year-old woman died in Yuba County, north of Sacramento, when a tree fell on the parked car in which she was sitting.

In Southern California, a homeless man had to be rescued from a tree by helicopter and four others were plucked from an island after becoming trapped in the swollen Santa Ana River in San Bernardino County.

In Nevada, snow in higher elevations in rural, eastern Lincoln County stranded 50 to 60 cars early Friday, dispatcher Shannon Miller said. No injuries were reported, but U.S. 93 was closed south of Ely. Sheriff's dispatch said early Saturday that the roadway had been reopened, but the office did not have any information on the stranded cars....

A wintry tree in Kolomenskoe Park in Moscow, shot by A.Savin, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Cost of climate change adaptation could destabilise African countries, UN warns

John Vidal in the "globaldevelopment" blog at the Guardian (UK): African countries are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and could struggle to feed and defend their people as temperatures rise, according to a major UN report.

The cost of developing drought-resistant crops, providing early-warning systems for floods, droughts and fires, and building seawalls, dykes, and wave breaks will be vast, says the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) emissions gap report, launched this week at an African environment ministers' meeting in Warsaw.

It will cost Africa approximately $350bn a year to adapt its farming and infrastructure to climate change if governments fail to hold temperatures to less than 2C and allow them to rise to about 4C, according to the report.

The higher temperatures rise, the greater the financial and human challenge to adapt, says the report, which argues that present policies point to temperatures rising to 3-4C by 2100, a turn of events it claims would be catastrophic.

..."The plight of Africa is not of our making," said Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lead negotiator for the Africa group of nations. "The developed countries have caused the problem and Africa are asking for the funds to help but so far they are not forthcoming.

"One billion Africans are in harm's way. We witness instability in rainfall, diseases spreading, sea level rise and floods. One of the effects of climate change is to send Africans further and further to seek water. This brings them into conflict with other Africans. We are faced with wars on African soil that are not created in Africa."....

Cyclone Cleopatra: Sardinia storm death toll reaches 18 as state of emergency is declared

Heather Saul in the Independent (UK): The Italian island of Sardinia has been hit by a powerful cyclone, causing devastating flooding that has left at least 18 dead and many others missing. On Monday evening, Cyclone Cleopatra caused rivers to burst their banks, sweeping away cars and flooding homes. Over 450mm of rain fell in just an hour and a half during Monday night.

Italian Premier Enrico Letta declared a state of emergency and set aside 20 million euros (£17 million) for emergency relief, saying the priority was reaching remote area, saving the lives of those still unaccounted-for and providing for those left homeless. He described the event as "a national tragedy".

Regional governor Ugo Cappellacci told SkyTG24 television that the town of Olbia in the northeast had been flooded with several bridges down, and added there was a similar situation near the central town of Nuoro.

He said the city had been destroyed by the "apocalyptic" storm, with bridges felled by gushing, muddy rivers and water levels reaching 10ft (3m) high in some places....

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pakistan moves to make cities more climate-resilient

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: For Jamal Mujtaba, the news that the Pakistani government has prepared a plan to make Islamabad a model disaster-resilient city comes as a relief.

Mujtaba, a resident of a slum area called Pathan Colony, has suffered damage to his home and livelihood because of frequent heavy rains that swell the streams emerging from the scenic Marghalla Hills to the north-west of the capital, triggering flooding in the city.   “For me any plan to make the city disaster-resilient is the need of the hour,” he says.

Last month, Pakistan’s Climate Change Division unveiled a Climate Change Vulnerability Adaptation Assessment (CCVAA) for the Islamabad Capital Territory to reduce the city’s vulnerability to climate change-related disasters such as flooding, heat waves and landslides.

Drawn up in collaboration with the Pakistan chapter of UN-Habitat, the plan calls for assessing the current climate-resilience capacity of civic authorities and potential partners, collecting data on the vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure and reviewing existing building and energy codes.

“The ... overarching goal of the initiative is to create a platform for debate among relevant government and non-governmental stakeholders on existing planning and (to) devise concrete, viable projects to promote climate resilience in the future city development plans,” said Raja Hassan Abbas, secretary of the Pakistan Climate Change Division, during a meeting on the initiative in Islamabad.

Backers hope the assessment will lead to redesigned infrastructure plans for water, sanitation, roads, health and education, and the improvement of slum areas to make them more resilient to the effects of climate change. The plan also calls for the promotion of innovations in green energy and the launching energy-efficient mass transit....

A street in Karachi, shot by Greg, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Typhoon Haiyan: Death toll tops 5,200 two weeks after storm smashed Philippines

Alexander Smith at NBC News: The death toll from super typhoon Haiyan, which smashed into the Philippines two weeks ago, has passed 5,200, an official said Friday.

The number of people killed by what was one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall now stands at 5,209, Major Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), told NBC News.

Just days ago, she had the usual concerns of being 20 -- college studies and Facebook. After Typhoon Haiyan, Queennie Lucio focuses on helping her family find enough food, water, and maybe even hope, among the rubble.

He said more than 23,000 had been injured and 1,611 were still missing across islands devastated by Haiyan, which is known as Yolanda in the Philippines.

Asked how the relief effort was going, Balido said: “We have been doing better. We are starting to reach all the people in need, especially in Samar," referring to one of the worst affected islands. “Right now we are on our third round of distributing relief," he added....

Satellite image of the Philippines, from NASA

UN raises emergency aid appeal for Philippines typhoon victims to $348 million

UN News Centre: The United Nations today increased its appeal for Philippines typhoon relief by nearly 16 per cent to $348 million with a further rise likely as aid organizations move into top gear in the face of a disaster that killed thousands of people and affected 13.25 million overall.

“A massive disaster like this requires a massive response,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator Valerie Amos told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York just back from her second visit to the area in a week following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan on 8 November.

“Much more needs to be done. Food, clean water and shelter remain the top priorities. Vast numbers of vulnerable people are still exposed to bad weather and need basic shelter. Families who have lost their homes will need substantial longer-term support from the international community to ensure they have the means to rebuild their houses.”

The Government today raised the death toll from Haiyan to more than 5,200 as it still tries to verify the total number of dead and missing, with communities on remote islands or in mountainous areas still not reached. Over 5 million of those affected are children, and more than 4 million people have been left homeless with over 1 million homes destroyed.

When it first launched its so-called flash appeal on 12 November, the UN sought $301, an amount that as of today is nearly 39 per cent funded at $134 million. Ms. Amos noted that the new amount of $348 is expected to rise as there are still communities yet to be reached, and a major review of the appeal is slated for the first week in December....

US Department of Defense photo of relief effort in the Philippines, November 17, 2013