By Ranil Senanayake –
We have just witnessed another weather feature that confirms the future predicted with Climate Change, localized, extreme, weather events of both flood and drought. But we still seem blissfully unaware and unprepared for such a future. The last abnormally high rainfall event should be looked at as a warning of the future to come. There should be some commonsense in planning, for example the architecture of housing in flood prone areas must change. Living spaces should be constructed above the known flood level. Many nations around us routinely build this way.in flood prone areas.
There should also be some scientific capacity and national interest in the bureaucrats whom we fund to travel to the international conferences on our behalf. There should also be less jealousy of countrymen involved in the task of building a safe country for their children. A case in point is the Climate Change Convention and our national Climate Change Secretariat. In Paris at COP 21 country statement was drafted by the Presidential Delegation. They issued the ‘Country Statement’, which was highly appreciated as a ‘forward thinking’ document by many delegates at the conference. However the bureaucrats from the ministry who were at the conference wanted to have nothing to do with it, because it did not come from them and has not sensitized the requisite arms of government to be prepared for such extreme events as yet.
One urgent example is the statement:
“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted. We would request the IPCC to address responses to this phenomenon.”
Why is a heat wave so dangerous? Apart from the heat stress in human and animals, it could exceed the threshold for enzymatic activity. All of agriculture depends on the good growth of plants, all plants rely on their chlorophyll to grow and produce. Chlorophyll is a molecule that functions to an optimum at about 37degrees, above that their performance falls. In heat waves often exceeding 38 degrees plant productivity will be impacted and yields drop (fig1). This year much of Australia dealt with a brutal spring heat wave that reduced farmers’ yields.
The danger to agricultural production is further exasperated by the reliance on chemical farming with so-called ‘high yield ‘ crops. These crops have been bred by reducing photosynthetic biomass for crop biomass. This reduction being made possible by the use of chemical fertilizers. But in a high temperature situation when chlorophyll is functioning sub-optimally such reductions of leaf biomass may bring serious crop losses.
Already countries such as Australia have begun researching the ‘heat stress’ loss in the agriculture. In Sri Lanka however there seems to be no official recognition of this fact. To have official recognition, one needs the official organ recognize these facts and begin transmitting it to the other organs of government that need to respond. For example, the Ministry and Department of Agriculture should have been informed and should have begun research on heat and drought tolerant varieties. The public should be informed on how to affect ambient cooling in their neighborhoods.
The trends are more than obvious now. Last month a record high of 53.5C set in the southwest Pakistani city of Turbat, the world’s hottest-ever temperature recorded for the month of May. In Delhi it is currently over 44C. A recent study found that the number of heat wave days increased by 25 percent across most of India. Areas in the south and west of India experienced 50 percent more heatwave events, or periods of extreme heat lasting more than three or four days. Should we not prepare ourselves? Is this not disaster preparedness? But does Climate Change and Disaster Management and Meteorology discuss these threats, in a joint manner?
The creation of increasing areas of impervious surfaces, where the rainwater cannot penetrate, will create floods if not properly drained. This was a strong lesson from the floods. Yet no watershed base plan has been created for the massive urbanization activity that seems to be the only idea of ‘development’ within the current political system. They also do not seem to understand that, massive urban growth that relies on fossil energy for its maintenance will create even more Carbon Dioxide, which in turn will trigger more extreme climate events.
The bottom line is that we need an informed, concerned, Climate Change Secretariat within the Government to inform and co-ordinate activities that will help the nation adapt and respond to the coming changes. We also need to understand better that using fossil fuel, be it Coal Oil or Gas for development will mean more floods, more droughts and more misery for a vast majority of the people. Communicating this information to the public is as important as grandstanding at international conferences.
We have become a nation of international hypocrites. We preach about our concern for the environment, our concern for public health and our adherence to Buddhist principles, on all possible international stages, while doing the total opposite at home. Our ecosystems are in tatters, our biodiversity restricted to tiny patches in a sea of monocultures, our economy is totally dedicated to greed, our seas are so polluted that a simple cut can get infected in many locations.
The flood has hopefully taught us that we cannot continue business as usual. Along with the shovels and brooms to clean the mess the flood left behind we should also identify, name and hold accountable all those who feed at the trough of disaster preparedness (US$ 100,417,924 in 2016 by the UN records ) and insist on performance not excuses.