Friday, 28 February 2014

Global climate change


Locals demand action as extreme weather ravages Argentina's cities
Extreme weather is ravaging Argentina's urban centers. Locals want to know how the government is preparing to protect them against flash floods, extreme heat and drought.



DW,
27 February, 2014

At about 4:30 in the morning on April 2, 2013, Federico Brusau woke to the sound of a neighbor ringing his doorbell again and again. The water level in the street was rising quickly, and people were preparing for the worst.

Brusau rushed to shut the floodgates on his home and save his electronics. Then he hurried to his rooftop terrace to unclog its already-overflowing drains. By the time he got back downstairs, it was too late to do anything more.
Everything was already covered with water,” he remembers. “It had come in over the floodgates and then through the heating vents. In less than five minutes, everything was flooded.”
The water level in the street had rapidly risen to 1.3 meters (51 inches) and spilled over Brusau's meter-high floodgates. Brusau had no choice but to retreat to his second-floor bedroom and waited for the rain to stop.
Extreme weather
Brusau, a 27-year-old who lives in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Saavedra - one of the lowest-lying points in the city of Buenos Aires - was just one of the many people affected by last April's floods in Buenos Aires and La Plata.
The floods caused at least 50 deaths and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Both cities, like many in Latin America, are built on flood plains. As global warming increases and extreme weather events become more common, devastating floods are likely to carry away more lives and property unless governments develop adequate infrastructure and emergency responses.

Extreme weather events are becoming commonplace in places like Buenos Aires
That evening, in the neighboring city of La Plata, 300 millimeters of rain fell.
Soledad Escobar, a La Plata resident, remembers stepping out of her home the morning after the torrential downpour.
It was as if we'd been through a war,” she recalls. “The first thing I did was go to see a friend of mine who lived five blocks away who had water up to her neck. In that same block there was a woman who died, just meters from where my friend lives. She drowned in her house.”
What's to be done
As global warming increases, experts say not only Argentine cities, but cities across Latin America can expect both more droughts - like the one Argentina is experiencing now - and more storms, like the heavy rain that caused last year's deaths and devastation.
Climate change has been underestimated,” says Antonio Elio Brailovsky, a local environment expert. “We're going to have more and more extreme events all the time.”
If local governments built infrastructure capable of handling normal storms, the effects of record-breaking rainfall wouldn't be so tragic, says Claudio Velazco, a hydraulic engineer and an expert on La Plata's drainage system. But, in dry years like this one, it's hard to make long-term investments to prepare for future storms.
The infrastructure that's needed is extensive. Environment expert Brailovsky says cities need to construct new drains in lower areas and, in higher areas, dams to hold back the water until the rain subsides.
Velazco, the engineer, says the money the local, provincial, and national governments spent on subsidies for those who lost their houses or possessions in last April's storms would have covered the cost of necessary public works projects. The government offers such subsidies because very few people have home insurance in Argentina.
Fortunately, some palliative measures wouldn't require much of a budget, adds Brailovsky, the environment expert. He says zoning laws should be changed so that there aren't underground parking garages or power boxes in areas susceptible to flooding.

Many homes are without insurance in Argentina

Making up for lost time
Plans to get Buenos Aires ready for the next storm are in the works. But the problem is, since 1940, city governments have neglected to build infrastructure to keep up with the growing population, says the city's Director of Infrastructure, Daniel Capdevila.
So, now, the city is doing its best to make up for lost time. In 2005, it hired a consultant to complete a “Hydraulic Master Plan.”
The first thing we did was improve the Maldonado Canal, which is the watershed where one third of the population [about one million people] lives,” says Capdevila.
Next on the city's list is the Vega Canal, which drains the areas flooded in 2013. But, due to disagreements between the local and national governments, the city of Buenos Aires never got the loans it needed to finance the projects.
The World Bank was pleased with the loan they gave us for the Maldonado, and wanted to give us money for the Vega,” says Capdevila. “But we need to work with the national government so that it backs the loan.”
Frustrated residents
Those affected by last year's floods say it's just a matter of political will.
In Buenos Aires, a group of residents from Federico Brusau's neighborhood, Saavedra, is demanding the city implement a plan to notify residents when a dangerous storm is coming and a way to send emergency vehicles to vulnerable sites when floods strike. And, if that doesn't happen soon, they plan to take their case to court.
Soledad Escobar, in La Plata, wants to see her taxes coming back to her in the form of infrastructure improvements and new public works projects - even in dry years, like this one.
We want the government to take the problem seriously, to solve it, to listen to engineers…, to come to an agreement, to put together a task force, and to build the necessary infrastructure regardless of how much it costs,” she says.
After all, she asks, “What is the price of human life?”

So much for the rainforest there. Epic droughts in 2005 and 2010 turned them into a carbon source instead of a massive carbon sink, contributing to rapid jumps is atmospheric carbon concentration rise
---Paul Beckwith


Is Brazil's epic drought a taste of the future?
Extreme weather is ravaging Argentina's urban centers. Locals want to know how the government is preparing to protect them against flash floods, extreme heat and drought





25 February, 2014

With more than 140 cities implementing water rationing, analysts warning of collapsing soy and coffee exports, and reservoirs and rivers running precipitously low, talk about the World Cup in some parts of Brazil has been sidelined by concerns about an epic drought affecting the country's agricultural heartland.


With its rise as an agricultural superpower over the past 20 years, Brazil is today the world's largest exporter of coffee, sugar, oranges, soy, and cattle. That means the drought will take a bite out of the country's already flagging economic growth. But the worst may be yet to come if climate projections prove accurate: forecasts are for hotter and drier conditions going forward.


"The regions where we plant coffee today, especially the ones on lower elevations, will be getting hotter," Hilton Silveira Pinto of EMBRAPA, Brazil's government agency for agriculture, told NPR. "And many of the coffee plantations in these areas will probably have to be abandoned."


"By 2020, we will lose 20 to 22 percent of our soybean crop. It will also affect corn, cassava, many of our Brazilian crops."


Research suggests the forecasts could become even more dire if the Amazon rainforest — which plays a critical role in local and regional rainforest — tips toward drier conditions. Several studies predict that the combination of forest loss and climate change could conspire to tip large areas in the southern Amazon from rainforest toward savanna habitat, reducing rainfall. Already the region has experienced two of the most severe droughts on record — in 2005 and 2010. 

"If droughts continue to occur at 5–10-year frequency, or increase in frequency, large areas of Amazonian forest canopy likely will be exposed to the persistent effect of droughts and the slow recovery of forest canopy structure and function," wrote researchers in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2012. "In particular, areas of south and western Amazonia have been shown to be affected severely by increasing rainfall variability in the past decade, suggesting that this region may be witnessing the first signs of potential large-scale degradation of Amazonian rainforest from climate change." 

Further east, farmers and city residents are already feeling the pain. Some 6 million people in 11 states have been asked to ration water and temperatures in January in Sao Paulo were the hottest ever recorded. 


Big river boat trapped on a sand bank east of Barreirinha, during one of the worst droughts ever recorded in the Amazon. October, 2005. © Greenpeace / Daniel Beltra





No doubt they'll steal water from their neghbours.

Israel Facing Extreme Drought, Experts Concerned
Experts worry over driest year since 1927, as Kinneret reportedly loses four centimeters in February.

By Tova Dvorin


24 February, 2014

Israel is facing the driest winter since 1927, Ma'ariv reports Monday, leaving experts concerned.

The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)'s water level has dropped by four centimeters since the rainy season began, compared to a 1.97 meter rise over the same five-month period in 2013.

Israel has seen slight rain this month, but apparently it has not been making enough of an impact to change the drought situation. Israel's Water Authority stated Monday that the water level in the Kinneret rose by only two centimeters from the beginning of the February, compared to February 2013, which saw a 37 centimeter increase. The rise appears to be an accumulation of previous rainfall though, since in February 2013 no rain fell in Israel at all.

Officials stated that extra precautions are being made in the event that the drought continues.

"We have already set up extra desalination facilities, and water purifying centers, as well as [encouraged] proper water use and conservation," Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor stated. "This preparation allows us to provide enough water for regular use, even when Israel faces a dry spell."

Farmers are facing a real problem. Rather than just rain, they need extra water to irrigate fields and orchards, which comes at the expense of their annual water allotments. While there may be enough in their quotas to water their fields now, farmers potentially face the possibility of having no water at all for the arid summer months.

The Israeli Farmers' Federation (IFF) has already turned to the government for help dealing with the crisis.

"Farmers all over the country are forced to irrigate their fields and orchards, and if the situation continues like this, they might suffer heavy expenses," IFF spokesman Avshalom Vilan explained. "This may lead to a serious crisis for farmers that will also affect crops and produce."

"We need to find a quick and immediate solution with the help of the Israeli government, to prevent heavy damage which is bound to affect the spring and summer harvest," he added.

Those comments echoed similar concerns voiced earlier this month by the Israeli Agricultural Federation. A spokesman for the Federation called on he government to urgently supplement inadequate water resources by increasing desalinization efforts.

The drought will also affect the tourism ministry, as the lush landscapes in the Galilee and the Golan Heights drive more customers to bed and breakfasts and other vacation spots.

Even Mount Hermon was affected.

"I think this is the first year the snow did not attract the same quantity of tourists as usual," Sharon Lifschitz, CEO of tour company Eretz HaGalil noted. "Everyone went to Jerusalem, or Samaria, or the North during the storm."

"What we see going on here is something very rare," Zahi Waxma, forecaster for Meteo-tech, explained. "Months have passed since the storm and the amount of rain that fell in the north stands at less than 10 mm per month. We are at the peak of the rainy season, which means we should see about 100-200 mm of rainfall while, in practice, there are places seeing only 5 mm."




Early Wildfire Season in New Mexico Starts as U.S. Considers New Funding Sources to Fight Extreme Wildfires
Extreme weather is ravaging Argentina's urban centers. Locals want to know how the government is preparing to protect them against flash floods, extreme heat and drought.


25 February, 2014


I experienced very dry conditions in the mountains of northern New Mexico a few weeks back. I spoke with someone who travels to Taos nearly every winter and this was the least snow he could remember. The fire risk sign said “low” in the surrounding forests, but if more snow did not come soon I suspected those signs would start nudging to the yellow and red colors that warn of fire risk. 


Unfortunately, fires have already erupted in New Mexico this February. Some officials say that if 2014 continues to be the sixth year in a row with drier-than-average conditions on New Mexico’s Rio Grande, this would be the longest dry stretch since before the Rio Grande river gauges existed.

During the largest wildfire season between 2003 and 2013 in terms of total New Mexico acres burned, the Las Conchas Fire erupted.   Photo taken June 29, 2011by Brenda Ekwurzel.
During the largest wildfire season between 2003 and 2013 (in terms of total New Mexico acres burned), the Las Conchas Fire erupted. Photo taken June 29, 2011, by Brenda Ekwurzel.
Yesterday, President Obama met with governors of western states to discuss drought and wildfires. His annual budget request to Congress includes a proposed shift in funding for extreme wildfires.
Just as FEMA is allowed to exceed its annual budget to deal with disasters by drawing down a special account, theDepartments of Interior and Agriculture could have a similar exception and draw on a special account to fight extreme wildfires. These departments have spent more money fighting fires as development increases in wildfire-prone areas and warmer temperatures increase western U.S. wildfire risk. With each passing decade, wildfire season is getting longer, and more large fires and increased burned acreage have been the trend in the west.


BandelierNM_SandBagsVisitorCtr_2014Feb27_BrendaEkwurzel
Bandelier National Monument visitor center protects itself from post-fire flooding with sand bags. Photo taken Jan 27, 2014 by Brenda Ekwurzel
The 2011 year stands out for New Mexico and Arizona as the largest wildfire seasonin terms of acres burned between 2002 and 2013, according to the February 2014 report of the National Interagency Fire Center. I remember the thick smoke and ash falling during the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire near Los Alamos National Lab and Bandelier National Monument.

A few weeks back I had the chance to visitAncestral Pueblo structures in Bandelier National Monument to see how it had recovered from the fire. I found the National Park Service visitor center with sand bags piled high and the road to the picnic area completely destroyed by flooding, a common post-wildfire risk, particularly in a state like New Mexico that typically has seasonal Southwestern Monsoon rains.

BandelierNM_FloodDamageRoadSign_2014Feb27_BrendaEkwurzel
Road sign damaged by floodwaters. Photo taken Jan 27, 2014 by Brenda Ekwurzel
Huge trees were piled up against other trees in the Frijoles Canyon and grey sediment choked the streambed in many parts.
I met residents who live downstream at Laguna Pueblo who said they heard the roar of boulders under the floodwaters hurling down the canyon in September 2013. The area affected by the flood looked perilously close to the village of Tyuonyi Pueblo on the valley floor of Frijoles Canyon– a cherished national heritage site that the National Park Service is charged with protecting.


Frijoles Canyon filled with trees, boulders, and grey sediment after flooding. Note how close the flood debris is to the Tyuonyi Pueblo structures. Photo taken Jan 27, 2014 by Brenda Ekwurzel.
Frijoles Canyon filled with trees, boulders, and grey sediment after flooding. Note how close the flood debris is to the Tyuonyi Pueblo structures. Photo taken Jan 27, 2014 by Brenda Ekwurzel.
Not only does the nation face the rising costs of fighting wildfires when they burn, the costs of extreme flooding in the months and years following such a large fire is often a surprise to those living downstream.



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