Monday, 2 May 2016

The Dying Earth - 05/01/2016

Coffee crops die in Vietnam, Thai rice yield shrinks

A dried-out canal in Nakhon Sawan province, north of Bangkok. Widespread drought and sweltering heat have left much of Thailand as well as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in dire need of water for both crops and residents.PHOTO: REUTERS

25 April, 2016

Much of central and north-eastern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam's Mekong Delta rice bowl, temperatures are soaring into the 40s, and are likely to stay there until around the middle of next month. 

A second year of summer drought has been exacerbated by the El Nino effect. On Friday, Thailand's meteorological office said a heatwave late this month or early next month would push temperatures to 43 deg C or 44 deg C. 

Vietnam's coffee growers have suffered, as have Thailand's rice farmers. But while a supply dip could raise coffee prices, rice prices might not be affected, analysts say. 

Scientists say the good news is the El Nino effect will start fading towards the end of next month and annual monsoon rains will begin.
Meanwhile, in village after village, water tanks are dry, grass has withered and the ground is baked and cracked underfoot.

In some villages in north-eastern Thailand, there has been no running water for weeks, and local fire brigades have been pressed into service to bring water from kilometres away. In many places here, for the second year running, there has been no second rice crop.

How bad the impact of the drought will be on agricultural output - not just of rice in Vietnam and Thailand but of commodities such as coffee in Vietnam - is still uncertain.

"This is not stopping here. It's going to get worse and worse," says Ms Rolan Colieng, 28, as she looks at her coffee farm in Vietnam's Central Highlands, where the family has had to cut down swathes of dried-out coffee trees.

Her family is part of of the K'Ho ethnic minority group, which has grown coffee for four generations, and has culled 500 trees. The community's 50ha of coffee usually yield 100 tonnes per season but might provide only half of that this year, she estimates. Blackouts happen twice a week on average because nearby dams that produce the hydro-power have seen reservoirs dry up.

Down south in the delta, rice output was down by 200,000 tonnes in the winter-spring season compared with the same period last year, for a total of 11 million tonnes, says Mr Bui Chi Buu, a senior researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Science for Southern Vietnam.

Losses from the drought rose to nearly US$250 million (S$339 million) after coffee, fruit and vegetable and cash crops, as well as 4,500ha of aquaculture farms, were destroyed, Vietnam's Central Steering Committee on Natural Disasters Prevention said this month. 

This is the worst drought in a century, Mr Buu tells The Straits Times. Some 167,000ha of rice and tens of thousands of hectares of coffee have been affected by drought and salinity, with the Central Highlands - home to many of Vietnam's ethnic minorities - being the worst hit.

"Vietnamese people have a proverb: 'Have a crop failure for one year, be poor for three years'," says Mr Buu. "So this will not affect us immediately, but in the longer term."

With the drought having killed off coffee trees, and low yields from older trees, which account for 35 per cent of the total, Vietnam's coffee exports could shrink by 25 per cent this year to one million tonnes, Mr Luong Van Tu, the chairman of the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association, told Reuters this month. Tighter supply from Vietnam could see global coffee prices going up.

In Thailand, Mr Vichai Sriprasert, the president and chief executive of exporter Riceland International, estimates that the second rice crop could suffer a 30 per cent fall in output.

It is a close estimate, says Dr Nipon Poapongsakorn, a distinguished fellow of the Thailand Development Research Institute Foundation, a local think-tank.

But the second rice crop is only part of Thailand's output, he emphasises. Even though there is not yet enough data to conclusively establish the impact of the drought, the main crop yield last year came to 23.5 million tonnes, while the dry season or second crop yield was 5.4 million tonnes.

This year, the main crop yield is forecast to be up to 25.2 million tonnes - and the second crop should go down to around 3.9 million tonnes, says Dr Nipon.
Thailand is not in danger of experiencing a rice supply shortage, given that it still has some 13 million tonnes of old rice in warehouses, Mr Vichai notes.

The second crop yield has never been this low, he says. Yet, world rice prices, which have been low, will remain low, he predicts - because demand is also down, amid an uncertain global economic environment. 

Indian heat wave: Death toll tops 300 as temperatures push 50C with morethan 330 million struggling with severe drought.

  • It could be the deadliest heatwave in world history. 
  • It's still only April...With the hottest months to come!
  • Hottest April temperatures ever recorded and the mercury is still rising!
  • More than 300 deaths and another 80 killed by fires....
With temperatures now pushing 50C (122F) with high humidity and the death toll rising rapidly, the heat wave in parts of India has now reached heat levels a human body cannot function and  begins to break down.

The sizzling heat wave has claimed more than 300 lives in India, and officials have forbidden daytime cooking in some areas to prevent fires that have killed nearly 80 others.

The eastern state of Bihar banned cooking between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. after accidental fires exacerbated by dry, hot and windy weather swept through shantytowns and thatched-roof houses in villages and killed 79 people.

People are also barred from burning spent crops or holding fire rituals as part of Hindu religious practice.

Disaster management official Vyas, who goes by one name, said Friday that anyone who violates the orders could face up to a year in jail.

 At least 300 people have died of heat-related illness this month, as more than 330 million are also struggling with severe drought.

Three weeks into April and Ananthapuram is burning under an intolerable heat wave with daily temperatures touching 44 degrees Celsius, making it one of the hottest places in the country, according to private weather forecaster Skymet.

Step out around 11 am and you feel you are being physically assaulted by the heat, a steady stream of scorching blows raining all over your body.

While it is unsurprising that people are collapsing in this heat, the tragedy lies in the fact that if adequate precautions are taken, heatstroke deaths like Gopal's and Venkataiah's are preventable, according to experts, unlike in other natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods.

This is the second consecutive year southern India has suffered from a deadly heat wave, after some 2,500 people died in scorching temperatures last year.

Up South: Kerala Declared As A Drought Hit State

Kerala decided to approach the Centre to declare it 'drought hit' as Malampuzha in Kerala's Palakaad district recorded the highest temperature of 41.7 degrees Celsius in the state for the third consecutive day. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard and also asked the Centre to relax its conditions and guidelines to declare the state as drought hit. A high-level meeting convened by the Chief Minister had decided to ask the Centre to declare the state drought hit early in the day. The worst affected districts are Palakkad, Kollam, and Kasarkod.

Fear mounts as heat wave envelops India

With few people having access to air conditioning, the high temperatures may become increasingly hazardous.

21 April,2016

Temperatures in many parts of the country are well above average, with some places reporting temperatures more than 5C higher than would be expected at this time of the year.

The heat is now being blamed for the death of more than 100 people and fears are rising that this could turn into a major catastrophe.

The only guarantee of the end of the high temperatures is the start of the monsoon, but these important rains are not scheduled until the beginning of June.

If the temperatures remain above average until then, this could turn into a major humanitarian crisis.

Last year 2,500 people died in a heat wave which gripped the country in May.
It was India’s second deadliest heat wave, and temperatures remained nearly 10C above average for nearly two weeks, before the monsoon rains brought relief.

This year, there are concerns that the heat could remain for far longer.

Globally heat waves are one of the largest causes of weather-related deaths.

The situation is particularly hazardous if the temperatures do not drop during the night, because this would normally be when the body would recover from the heat.

The situation in India is exacerbated because many people do not have access to air-conditioning. Electric fans can only provide relief if temperatures are below 35C, and they have also been shown to accelerate dehydration.

In addition, after two years of below-average monsoon rains, some parts of the country are facing a crippling drought. This puts some residents at risk of severe heat stress as they lug heavy containers of water from the nearest well.

With no end to the heat wave in sight, the hot weather continues to take its toll on the residents of India.

Sri Lanka Feels the Heat

arched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.
Parched soil on a field in Sri Lanka, which could face another cycle of drought and floods. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

COLOMBO, Feb 28 2014 (IPS) - Sri Lanka is heading into a major crisis under extreme heat, as the rains stay away. Fears are growing of power cuts and interruption to the water supply because reservoir levels are running scarily low.

By the third week of February, the Ceylon Electricity Board said it was relying on expensive thermal generators for 76 percent of the country’s power supply.

Around August 2012, extended dry weather almost dried up hydro-reservoirs. The country spent over two billion dollars to import furnace oil. The drought impacted over a million persons, according to the Sri Lanka Red Cross.

The 2012 dry spell was followed by heavy rains that allowed hydro-power to gain lost ground last year. That vicious cycle could be repeating itself.

Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said last week that changing climate patterns have had a serious impact on the country’s fortunes. “Sri Lanka also is impacted by climate change in the form of droughts, floods and other natural disasters. We take these matters into consideration when framing monetary policy,” he said during a live Twitter interaction.

According to experts, power supply and the vital paddy harvest are likely to be hit if the rains stay away for longer.

Asoka Abeygunawardana, executive director of the Sri Lanka Energy Forum and Advisor to the Ministry of Technology, told IPS that Sri Lanka’s power supply was too dependent on hydro-power or on costly coal and furnace oil.
We are too reliant on these sources; one can be unpredictable while the other two can be quite expensive,” he said.

In a normal year Sri Lanka looks to harvest half of its power supply through hydro and the remainder through a combination of coal furnace oil and a negligible content of renewable sources. When the rains fail, as they have now, there is no alternative but to turn to more coal and oil.

Abeygunawardana, who is also a board member of the Climate Action Network South Asia, a grouping of over 100 civil society groups that studies climate change and impact, told IPS that Sri Lanka should look at investing more in renewable energy sources. Sri Lanka’s future energy policy is skewed towards coal, which Abeygunawardana said is expensive and polluting.

He advocates wind and solar use which could be cheaper in the long run despite the initial high expenses.
We get sunlight and wind
 both free of charge all year round, making running costs quite cheap. In the event of a drought, the strong sun will naturally fill the gap created by lack of water.”

The other important factor is managing the meagre water resources that feed both the power supply and the vast rice fields.

There is some level of dialogue that takes place between government agencies r
eliant on reservoirs like the Department of Irrigation, and the Electricity Board. But Abeygunawardana said that these discussions lacked scientific basis and planning.

These agencies have to come up with a process where the release of water is integrated and not done at the wish of one agency.”

Such policy changes are vital given the potential impact the scorching heat is packing. The current dry spell is likely to reduce the main rice harvest by seven to 10 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture. Sri Lanka’s main cash crop, tea, is also likely to get hit with rising temperatures reducing leaf quality.

Riza Yehiya, a climate risk management specialist, warned that policy makers are still not taking shifting climate patterns and their impact seriously. “Current spell of extreme heat experienced in Sri Lanka is considered a passing cloud. It is not discernible to those in power and decision making in their air-conditioned chambers,” he told IPS.

He said that discussions were taking place at policy level but what was lacking was adaptation and implementation on the ground level. “In a practical sense, making society climate change resilient requires putting the society almost on a war footing to prepare them to proactively respond.”

Water management is one area where experts say the country’s policy makers need to show urgent attention.  Irrigated water for farming is provided free in Sri Lanka but officials at the Department of Agriculture complain that it is almost impossible to get farmers to use water sparingly or to shift to more climate resistant crop varieties.

Yehiya said that people’s behaviour from watering plants to washing their cars or how they used electricity needs an overhaul.
hange the behaviour of people, their societies and economies to reduce their carbon footprint, and enable them to live sustainably without affecting the natural eco-system.”

No such seismic shift is in sight. The country is still facing each new climate threat in isolation, without linking the dots.

Austria'sTreasured National Resource, Its Glaciers, Are Melting Fast

Glaciers across the country retreated an average of 72 feet in 2015, more than twice the rate of the previous year, finds an annual survey.

The Pasterz, the largest glacier in Austria, has declined by half since it was first accurately measured in 1851. Credit: Bernd Thaller, flickr

VIENNA—Nearly all of Austria's 900 glaciers retreated last year amid record-setting heat, according to Austrian scientists. The rapid melting mirrors a trend across the Alps and underscores scientists' warnings of accelerating, extreme climate impacts caused by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Across the country, the glaciers retreated an average of 72 feet in 2015, more than twice the rate of the previous year, the Austrian Alpine Association said in its annual glacier survey. Three of the country's glaciers retreated by more than 320 feet. The nonprofit association—which promotes mountain culture, research and conservation— has beenconducting detailed glacier measurements since 1927, creating a dramatic record of climate change effects in the alpine region.

TRAGIC: Four die in Kilimani area of Nairobi

NAIROBI A six-storey building collapsed in Nairobi's Huruma residential area late on Friday, the Kenya Red Cross said, after days of heavy rains and floods.

Three children and one adult had been rescued and taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, the aid group added on its Twitter feed.

The Daily Nation newspaper reported that scores more were feared trapped. Authorities did not immediately release details on casualties in the area to the northeast of the capital.

Kenya Red Cross said 150 households had been affected by the collapse, without going into further details.

ArgentinaFloods Swamp Soy Crop; Some Must Commute by Boat

Water levels in the flooded town of Villa Paranacito have risen so much that the best way for residents to commute is by boat.

The town in eastern Argentina is one of the worst-struck by weeks of heavy rains stemming from the El Nino weather phenomenon. With streets covered by several feet of water from swollen rivers, residents are getting to schools, banks and other town services on boats, the only means of transportation.

Authorities have evacuated thousands of people across Argentina. Flood waters have reached grazing grounds, drowning livestock in the leading meat producing country. They have also swamped about a third of Argentina's soy farms, causing big losses to one of the world's top grains suppliers.

Argentina's Rural Society said Thursday that about 4 million metric tons of soy had been ruined. The losses are estimated at up to $1.3 billion.

Soybean prices at the Chicago Board of Trade fell Friday, after rising for weeks to nearly a one year-high on growing concerns about the damaged crops in Argentina, which is the world's No. 3 soy exporter.

Air temperatures in the Arctic are getting very high. Temperatures over Alaska were as high as 13.9°C or 56.9°F at 61°N and as high as 10.6°C or 51.0°F at 66.5°N on May 1, 2016. 

Melbourne storm: Trees uprooted, homes damaged by out-of-season weather

The Bureau of Meteorology said the weather was unusual for this time of year.

Strong winds and heavy rain lashed parts of Victoria overnight, with hundreds of residents calling the State Emergency Service (SES) for help.
The SES received more than 500 calls, mainly for downed trees and building damage in Warragul and Melbourne's east and south-east.
Most areas received between five and 15 millimetres of rain, but up to 40 millimetres fell in the state's north-east ranges.
Winds of about 100 kilometres per hour were recorded on the bay and in the state's south-west.
SES state duty officer Gerry Sheridan said the storm built up momentum as it moved across the bay.
"The hardest hit suburbs that we've had is Narre Warren, in the south-east suburbs, and places like Monash, Clayton, Mount Waverley and Chadstone," he said.
"As the storm cell moved across the bay, it built up a little bit of momentum. It's those populated areas รข?? the usual suspects get hit again.
"Another location is Lilydale. We're seeing over 50 jobs out that way as well."
Residents said Ashwood, in Melbourne's south-east, looked like it had been hit by a tornado.
"The whole street was covered in branches," local resident Lisa told the ABC.
"The power pole was down on one of the cars here and the SES arrived pretty much straight after that."
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Rod Dickson said the weather was unusual for this time of year.
"We had a fairly active cold front combined with an upper-level trough," he said.
"That produced quite widespread thunderstorm activity, which developed over the north-west late Saturday afternoon then extended into central parts of the state towards midnight.
"Typically we normally see severe thunderstorm activity during the afternoon during the warmer months."
The front was weakening as it moved east.
Mr Dickson said the thunderstorm activity had mostly passed.
Information source - ABC

Hottest May night on record for 20 Queensland cities and towns

Vast areas of Queensland have experienced the hottest May night since records began, some of which stretch back to the 1800s.

A very warm air mass combined with moist air and cloud cover to create an almost balmy night, Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jonty Hall said.

From the far northern tropics, through to the southern inland and south-east area, at least 20 cities and towns had their records broken.

Some outback stations recorded temperatures 10-13 degrees Celsius above average for the overnight temperature.

Brisbane was 8C above average.

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