Side Views

Addressing climate change-induced natural disasters – Edi Suhardi

Jakarta’s prolonged floods are the result of a combination of intense rainfall and malpractices of land use and uncontrolled built-up areas without proper drainage to regulate waterflow.

These are exacerbated with the fact that the the already degraded upstream water catchment area has been converted for development purposes which prevent water penetration to the ground and fill in the aquifer.

Further, more intense downpour both in Jakarta and the upstream areas in Bogor far exceeding the capacity of water absoption and to appropriately channel the waterflow to the sea.

We know that such events will take place, but we fail to prepare and respond when it happens. Most of natural disasters are indeed man-made or at least man-induced calamity. Nevertheless, the root causes of more intense downpour as a result of climate change is not well addressed.

In addressing the natural disasters, the government and general public must look at the core issues in holistic fashion. Indeed, it is important to develop emergency disasters preparedness, such  early detection and warning system and immediate responses in place prior to of the events.

Jakarta is obviously the showcase of our errors in managing natural resource contributed to climate change that instigates more intense rainfall, and fallacy of urban development leading to inability to control the impact of such natural phenomenon.

Experts argued that more frequent occurrence of natural havoc such as blizzards, heatwave, typhoon, tornados, hurricane, floods and drought are apparent result of climate change due to mounting greenhouse gas (GHG) level. 

Climate change or global warming may increase intensity rainfall due to more water vapor could evaporate into the atmosphere fueling the intense storms. Some estimates the global inland precipitations increased by approximately 2% over the course of the 20th century.

Such phenomenon also occurs in Jakarta where more intense rainfall causes more frequent floods in the Jakarta floodplains and other floods prone areas in Indonesia. Floods has become one of the most severe disasters in Indonesia which have caused substantial loss and fatalities. 

Globally, natural disasters cost a total of $192 billion in 2013, according to research from Impact Forecasting on an “Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report.” The losses were generated by 296 major events, mostly occurred in Europe and Asia. They were caused primarily related to weather-related disasters, including

45% were meteorological (storms), 36% were hydrological (floods), 12% were climatological (heat waves, cold waves, droughts, wildfires) and 7 % were geophysical (earthquake and volcanic eruptions.

Notable events during the year in these regions included major flooding in Central Europe, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Australia, in addition to Super Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall in the Philippines. Flood represented 35% of all global economic losses during the year.

The report said that the natural disasters causing wide spread damage, chaos and impacting millions of lives.

Indonesia is a disater prone country as it located along the ring of fire, with constant tectonic and volcanic earthquakes as well as volcanic eruptions as it happens in the mountains of Kelud in Central Java and Sinabung  in North Sumatra. 

As archipelagic country, Indonesia is also highly susceptible to weather-related disasters. The majority of loss and fatality are mostly related to floods, land slides and other climatic-related events.

In spite of unpredictability nature of the events, the losses from the disasters can be minimized with better mitigation measures and better preparedness by the government and the citizens alike.

However, we fail to attend to the core issues and causes of the catastrophies. The natural disasters remind us that it is us, human beings who induced more frequent and intense weather-related event.

Natural disasters are the compelling reminder on the reality of climate change phenomenon. Most of scientist believe that climate change is caused by increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) level in the atmosphere.  It is synonymous with anthropogenic  global warming which accelerated the climate changes, which is typically irreversible, than the changes resulted as part of earth's natural processes.

Changes in climate is not only affecting the average temperatures, but also variability of temperatures, such as extremes of temperature both cold and hot and likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.

Human beings are instrumental contributors to the climate change and natural disasters. We all know that in case of natural disasters , human beings are only capable to either minimize its impacts and improve preparedness to respond or to prevent the escalation event occurences.

The intensity and escalation of climate change-induced calamities can be mitigated with reduction of GHG emissions level. Global initiatives on climate change have been  taken,  but the rate of GHG emission remains high. An extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures.

All stakeholders and individuals need to partake in curbing the GHG emission rate through four approaches.

The first is to preserve high carbon stock, such as primary forest and peatland. The government and all of us have to preserve the existing primary forest and pristine peatland. Such valuable natural assets must be prevented from landuse change or conversion to non-conservation purposes.

Second is to reduce GHG emission from human activities, particularly fosil fuel combustion and the industry. We need to advocate change of ways of life and complacency towards green – low carbon lifestyle and development. A new green revolution to use renewable energy and adopt sustainability principles and practices in all human activities.

Third is to enhance carbon sequestration and carbon sinks, anything that absorbs, stores and accummulate carbon, through re-vegetation of degraded land and restore marine and terrestrial environment.

Last is to manage the rate of population growth and birth control. Currently, Indonesia is facing with another baby boom, an unsustainable growth of population, thanks to government indifference and failure to prioritise its development programs. Such growth is actually the underlying factor of anthropogenic climate change as it boost consumptions of resources for food, energy and other amenities.

Therefore, we need to break the vicious cycle of anthropogenic natural calamity and global warming by adopting the above approaches simultaneously.

In the long run, mitigation of natural disasters, such as Jakarta floodings should include serious efforts to address human caused environmental degradation and mitigating climate change through curbing GHG emissions. – March 6, 2014.

* Edi Suhardi is vice-president II  of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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