Climate disasters

It is hard to conceive the horror of the current floods in Pakistan – a massive 30% of the country is under water, countless thousands are homeless and disease is rife.  Floods of this level of magnitude have never been recorded in this part of the world, ever.  The worst affected are the poorest people who normally live a subsistence agrarian lifestyle, the crop of choice for them is rice – Basmati Rice – one of that country’s only export earners. So these floods have not ‘only’ claimed the reported 1,400 (actually fatalities will be much higher) lives directly many more are at risk as the second wave, the wave of waterborne disease strikes, it will also have devastated Pakistan’s economy.

Tragically this scenario promises to play out again and again in the future because those people most at risk to the effects of Climate Change are those least capable of coping with the devastating impacts.  Ironically these are people with the smallest carbon footprint, people not responsible for the CO2  in the atmosphere in the first place.

Is Climate Change responsible for this rain that caused the floods in Pakistan?  Probably not, this area is subject to heavy rain, rain which is essential for its rice industry.  What Climate Change is almost certainly responsible for is the severity of the disaster.  When discussing Climate Change P.C.D. Milly states:1

We find that the frequency of great floods increased substantially during the twentieth century”.

At the same time as these floods in Pakistan, a similar tragedy was unfolding in China, where it is reported 724 people are dead or missing and 50,000 rendered homeless.

Climate change highlights the interdependence between all nations and species on this planet, sharing as we do the same atmospheric common2. Western countries whose wealth is a result of decades of cheap fossil fuels have been contaminating the atmospheric common for decades.  The West has a moral responsibility to assist poorer countries cope with disasters such as the Pakistani floods and importantly a responsibility to help them adapt, so that future events have less severe outcomes.  As humanitarians, we also have a responsibility to help our fellow people.

I believe that developed countries must broaden their concept of Defence, currently most Western countries Defence Budgets are spent on fighting wars in other countries, wars to protect oil supplies, wars to stabilise rogue states (which usually fail) and wars of ideology.  Yet the greatest threat to the global community is Climate Change, is it not appropriate  therefore to direct some of our defence spending to address the greatest threat to the peoples of the world?  The ‘Stockholm International Peace Research Institute‘ calculates that in 2009 the USA spent over US$663billion on defence which represents US$2,155 for each US citizen, the United Kingdom spent US$883. per capita on defence and Australia US$719.  Directing 20% of this to addressing Climate Change would make the world a better safer place to live, is that not the aim of a defence budget?

Until Governments take responsibility for assisting victims of disasters, it is left to the people.  I urge you all to give generously to appeals to assist the people of Pakistan. Do watch out for a fund raising concert coming to Fremantle Arts Centre on Saturday 16th October.

Published in Fremantle Herald 4th September 2010

1                     P.Milly et al                                       Nature Magazine.

2                     (Agarwal and Narain 2002).       Paper presented to ‘International Conference on Natural  Assets’, January 2003.

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