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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Landslides are normally triggered either by hydro-meteorological events or by earthquakes. Whatever the immediate cause, the vegetation cover of the affected area is going to determine the degree of devastation that the landslide will have. Factors such as “topography, geology, soils, hydrological conditions, landslide history and vegetation cover determine the response of a landslide-prone catchment to a specific trigger”[i].

Changes in the vegetation cover may be influenced by:

  • Climate change which might slowly but constantly alter it.
  • Extreme events -fire, wind, rain- which might result in rapid changes
  • Anthropogenic forces such as forest logging, changes in agricultural practices, and waste disposal with an immediate effect

Of the three factors, the third one is the one more clearly in the hands of individuals.

Policymakers and individuals, through their acts and inactions, affect how climate change evolves: positively or negatively. The problem, and probably the reason why “earth’s surface continues to significantly warm, with recent global temperatures being the hottest in the past 2,000-plus years”[ii], is that the solution has to be applied today in order to obtain a result in the mid to long term. Humans are not good at working today for a distant reward: at heart we are all kids.

But anthropogenic forces are different. The effect of deforestation is sensed immediately. A change in crops affects the soil in a matter of months. These actions are very near us: individuals are directly involved in them, policymakers can influence them, but the actors are you and me, our relatives and our neighbors. That being the case, what is preventing us from acting now in the right direction?   


[i] Papathoma-Koehle, M& Glade, T. The role of vegetation cover change in landslide hazard and risk. United Nations University, 2013

[ii] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/

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A sustainable and practical approach to integrating CCA and DRR appears to still be “in its infancy”[i] The 2019 document published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies points out how the challenge of addressing climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in a coordinated way is more a desideratum than a reality.

Let us start with climate change. The good news is the Nobel prize given to Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, and Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza University of Rome for their work on climate change. The award was very timely since COP26, the UN summit on climate change, will be held next month in Great Britain. It will certainly be an added incentive for governments and institutions to commit to real actions fighting climate change.

But I think those grandiose actions tend to be built on quicksand There is probably already enough legislation, at least in the developed world which is by far the biggest culprit of climate change, and surely a good number of pledges by big corporations aiming at reducing their carbon footprint. But I think that it is at the base of the pyramid where action should be taken. Consumers are the big culprits in climate change. Consumers are those who vote for that big, oversized car and that plastic-wrapped apple in the supermarket.

Let us move on to disaster risk reduction. I have written several times about the fact that the first first-responders are the people living in the area at risk. If those people keep dumping debris in the dried-up riverbed; if those same people keep razing forests and substituting them for yearly crops, then the effects of an otherwise slightly higher than usual rainfall can be devastating. I am sure that, again at least in the developed world, there is enough legislation today to prosecute those actions; I am not so sure about the actual prosecution of those actions by the authorities. The inaction is prompted by the fact that society condones those actions. Again, the legislation and its implementation are built on quicksand.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its annual climate change conference (COP), as well as the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) as the custodian of the Sendai Framework, are all very good. They promote actions by governments and corporations to act in both areas. But those two areas are intertwingled, as the above-mentioned document “Literature Review on Aligning Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)”i contends. My point is that where the connection is stronger is at the base: the citizen. Only with clear and strong action at citizen level, through education at the base, will we be able to simultaneously tackle climate change and disaster risk reduction effectively.


[i] Literature Review on Aligning Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) http://repo.floodalliance.net/jspui/handle/44111/4100

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I have been wondering what the connection between people, especially old people, and a resilient society could be.

What is more resilient than an old person? They have demonstrated their resilience through the years. An 80 or 90 year old European has gone through at least one war, if not several if he or she is from one of those unfortunate countries (the Balkans, Ukraine, …) which have suffered also their own national wars.

And yet, when devising processes for a resilient society, we do not look to those generations that have proved to be resilient. What have they done to survive in such an unwelcome surrounding?

My answer is simple: adaptation.

I had a teacher in high school who provided an easy explanation for the difference between democracy and dictatorship. Dictatorship is like a concrete wall; it withstands high winds but if the wind grows strong enough it collapses and disappears. Democracy is like a wall made up of a sheet of paper; it bents with the wind and, when the wind does not blow anymore, it falls back in place. That is adaptation.

Going back to how to design for old age or for resilient societies, I think we should look at the same characteristic: adaptation. We will survive if we can adapt ourselves and our society to a changing world, be it new technologies or climate change.

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A few weeks ago, in September 2019, Spain’s south-east was hit by a coldfront, flooding several villages and cities along the Segura basin. The images of devastation were breath-taking. One of the areas that suffered the most damage was the San Javier-Los Alcázares villages in El Mar Menor.

By no means was it an unexpected event. The Spanish Meteorological Agency had warned of the possible devastating effect of the coldfront. Was the damage due to the fact that the area is not considered floodable?

Directive 2007/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 23 October 2007, on the assessment and management of flood risks states in Article 7.5 that “Member States shall ensure that flood risk management plans are completed and published by 22 December 2015”. Spain in general, and the Confederación Hidrógráfica del Segura (entity in charge of the management of the basin) in particular, has complied with the provision of the article and, in March of 2014, issued the flood risk maps.

Let’s have a look at the one for the area in question in which the red marks mean more floodable areas:

And know have a look at Google maps of the area:

Just notice that the red on the first picture coincides almost exactly with the built-up areas of the villages of San Javier and Los Alcázares. So, the area was clearly floodable.

Maybe this event has been an isolated one and that is why nothing has been done to prevent flooding. Wrong again! In 2016 there was also extensive flooding in the area and six historical floods have been reported in the area according to the flood risk maps.

So, why has nothing been done? Why do residential buildings exist in an area that is floodable and that has gone through extensive damage several times in recent years? It may not be due to climate change but, whatever the underlying reason, the fact is that Spain is going through a period of more heat waves and more flooding. And, sadly, the fact is that nothing has been done and nothing is being done.

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