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Weather Disasters: Climate Change and the Potential for Conflict

Photo Source U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | CC BY 2.0

East Island was an uninhabited remote island in the Hawaiian chain, but it was an important refuge for wildlife:  Many of the endangered Hawaiian monk seals numbering about 1400 raised their young on that island; others like the green sea turtle and the albatross used it as a shelter.  Not any more because Hurricane Walaka washed away most of the island a few days ago.

It was not the only major Pacific storm last week for category 5 Typhoon Yutu devastated the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory.  It was reputedly the worst U.S. storm since 1935.  Perhaps happenstance, but the rise in mean temperature due to global warming also exacerbates storms.

In September, Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina  — 51 people died.  The next month Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida panhandle at 5 mph short of a category 5, a record for the area.  Following just a few days after the IPCC (October 8, 2018) report on restricting global warming to 1.5 C, it seemed like nature’s affirmation.  The residents of the area have not yet recovered from the devastation.  The same is true in Puerto Rico and the other affected areas where over 3000 people reportedly have lost their lives due to Hurricane Maria a year ago.  It followed on the heels of Irma tearing through several other Caribbean islands before arriving in Florida.  And Harvey flooded Houston causing a record $125 billion in damage.

Across the Atlantic, there have been heavy rains in Turkey where a 300 year-old bridge was washed away, and flooding in France, Wales and Scotland.  Hurricane Leslie targeted Portugal weakening fortunately to a tropical storm before landfall, and last year Hurricane Ophelia skirted past, its winds fanning wild fires in Portugal and Spain before becoming the worst storm to hit Ireland in 50 years although not at hurricane force, having dissipated in the colder northern waters.

Then there are the insidious effects usually unearthed by scientists.  A warmer earth makes hungry insects hungrier i.e. those voracious caterpillars will be munching even more.  So predict scientists in a study published in the August 31, 2018 issue of Science and reported on elsewhere.  Insects will be causing 10 to 25 percent more damage to wheat, maize and rice crops with a 2 degrees C rise in mean temperature above preindustrial levels as per the Paris agreement.

Other threats to crops include water shortages.  Countries relying on rivers for irrigation are threatened when the head waters are under the control of rivals.  Nuclear armed India and Pakistan are a case in point.  The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty lays down a mechanism for joint management, but Narendra Modi, India’s current nationalist Hindu prime minister aborted all engagement albeit temporarily.  India is building dams upstream which worries Pakistan, and in the latest row Pakistan has banned all Indian TV channels — Indian movies and TV are popular in Pakistan.

There are other regions with potential water conflicts.  Ethiopia is building a grand dam on the Nile for electricity generation.  The water used for electricity will continue to flow downstream but irrigation water if any is bled off — possible when there is a colossal reservoir that will take 5 to 15 years to fill.  Egypt’s life-blood is the Nile, and water flow can be seriously affected depending on the fill rate.

The Mekong river passes through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  It is entwined in the livelihood and culture of the region, and upstream dams now threaten centuries-old agricultural and fishing practices downstream.

How can such problems be resolved?  They are also not the only ones.  Parched or flooded farmlands, rising seas, and persistent severe weather will cause large areas to become uninhabitable.  Should then the mandate of bodies like the IPCC be expanded to deal with such consequences of climate change?  It is a possibility although government representatives are inherently biased.  More appropriate perhaps would be neutral international commissions composed of experts.  But how should affected people be settled?  We have a caravan of 1000 headed to the U.S. and causing much discomfiture in the Trump administration.  Imagine the numbers multiplied by 100 or a 1000.

All of which reminds us again that global warming is the most important issue we face.

 

More articles by:

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.

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