The Health Crisis From a perspective of Climate Change
Escalating Disasters and the Need for Preparedness
According to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the number of weather-related disasters has increased fivefold over the past 50 years. Approximately 11,000 disasters were recorded between 1970 and 2019, resulting in an estimated 2 million deaths and $3.6 trillion in economic losses.
These disasters have consequences beyond loss of life and economic damage; they also indicate the possibility of regions becoming uninhabitable worldwide. The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) projects that by 2050, around 1.2 billion people could be displaced due to weather-related disasters.
The driving force behind these disasters is undoubtedly global warming. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the human role in causing warming, marking an increased urgency. Heatwaves, droughts, forest fires, and tropical storms are occurring more frequently across the globe.
While improved early warning systems and disaster management have reduced fatalities by about a third over the past 50 years, many countries still lack these systems. There is a significant disparity between advanced and developing nations, with approximately 91% of deaths occurring in the latter.
Investing in risk management tailored to the frequency and scale of disasters, preparing for climate-induced displacement, and establishing international cooperation are increasingly essential.
Constructing Infrastructure with Nature in Mind
This July witnessed a record-breaking once-in-a-millennium rainfall in China’s Henan Province. Just two months later, Hurricane Ida brought once-in-two-centuries heavy rain to New York. The frequency of climate-related disasters threatens our lives.
In the face of these challenges, the Netherlands has adopted a different approach to flood control. They have created green spaces around rivers to allow water infiltration and prevent urban flooding, departing from traditional levees.
During the massive flooding in July, not a single life was lost. The water was absorbed by the created green spaces, reducing the water level by around 33cm.
The hydrologist behind this project, Van der Breck, emphasizes the necessity of giving rivers their natural expansive space and not resisting it.
In areas where the natural environment was restored, previously unseen wildlife and birds have returned. This approach contributes not only to disaster prevention but also to generating more nature.
In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the importance of green infrastructure using the environment to solve societal challenges has been highlighted.
Concrete actions like replacing paved roads with permeable surfaces and creating green spaces for water absorption are particularly impactful in urban areas dominated by concrete.
While climate change mitigation is undoubtedly crucial, coexistence with disasters and nature is equally vital.
Threatened Mountainous Regions by Lakes
In mountainous regions like the Himalayas, floods have claimed many lives in recent years. These floods are not caused by river overflow due to rainfall but by glacial lake outburst floods. These lakes form from melting glaciers, influenced by climate change. The sudden release of a large amount of water from these lakes into narrow rivers can cause significant downstream damage over several days.
Since 1940, glacial flood-related disasters are estimated to have claimed over 30,000 lives and are increasing as glaciers recede globally.
Due to warming, the volume of glacial lakes in the Himalayas has increased by about 50% in the last 60 years. Greenland has lost over 420 million tons of glacier ice in the last 25 years, equivalent to about 4.2 Mount Fujis.
While efforts to drain specific lakes threatening areas have been undertaken in countries like Switzerland, such projects are rare globally.
The effects of glacial melt might seem distant from our daily lives, but the connections exist below the surface. Considering these issues can prompt us to reevaluate our lives, even if we don’t directly feel the impact of climate change.
Climate Change and Designing Plantations
As the cold becomes more intense in Denmark, even though not reaching freezing point, the high humidity makes the temperature feel colder than it actually is.
At times, we divert our minds from reality and daydream about summer resort destinations. The blue sea, white sandy beaches, and thriving palm trees. However, even these idyllic scenes might change in the near future.
In southern Florida’s renowned beach resort, Miami, a project is underway to prioritize planting trees other than palm trees. The aim is to replace palm trees, which have low carbon sequestration capacity and provide minimal shade, with trees that have high CO2 absorption capacity, larger canopies, and resilience against natural disasters.
The plan is to reduce the proportion of palm trees in public trees to 25% by 2050.
Initiatives like New York City’s Street Tree Map, which quantifies and publishes the environmental effects of street trees, have gained attention. Selecting and planting trees based on data to contribute to climate change mitigation will likely increase in the future.
However, protecting against various natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes is equally important. Without these measures, the carbon dioxide captured could be released back into the atmosphere.