Category: Disaster Risk Reduction

Regionalism, human rights and migration in relation to climate change

Regionalism, human rights and migration in relation to climate change

By Cosmin Corendea

In a recent research project supported by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and AXA Research Fund, I focused on the main two systems of law in the Pacific – state or national legislation and traditional, customary law – and how the differences between the two could create legal risks when implementing international law associated with climate change, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement. The final policy report, launched in November 2017 at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, produced a set of seven concrete recommendations for policy makers and negotiators when addressing migration and human rights in the context of climate change.

Some of the recommendations emphasise the need of an harmonisation between the two legal systems in the Pacific (state/national and traditional) so as to create a single coherent system that can fill in the gaps and help implement international law, such as Paris Agreement. Other recommendations express an acute need for the process of migration to be continuously recognised by the countries in the region and started to be addressed at both technical and political level.

However, there are two main conclusions of the research that are applicable on a larger scale, beyond the characteristics of one country or region in particular.

The importance of hybrid international law

The concept of hybrid international law, as developed since 2007, refers to environmental law, human rights, and refugee or migration law. It demonstrates an interrelation between the three, and shows that climate change cannot be addressed without referring to human rights or migration – as direct or subsidiary effects.

Today, based on a reciprocal cause-effect relationship, we can’t address environmental degradation – including climate change – without taking into account human rights and/or migration. This analysis applies to all environmental-degradation events and disasters, regardless of whether the process is slow (such as sea-level rise, salinization, etc.) or rapid (flooding, extreme storms, etc.). For example, the immediate consequence of a flood could be human-rights violations in the affected community – children could be unable from going to school (the right to education), elderly people may be unable to reach medical facilities (the right to health care), and so on.

Immediately after the human-rights violation (happening at state level due to its obligation to protect and ensure the access to different rights), decisions are usually made by families and individuals depending on the severity of the event: either to stay (adapt) or to flee (migrate). Research in my book Legal Protection of the Sinking Islands Refugees (2016) shows that almost 30% of the people worldwide decide to migrate, mostly due to the limited capacity of states to assist in the adaptation process.

The decision to migrate is not exclusively based on environmental reasoning. It can include limitations to human-rights access as well economic issues. Most importantly, migration may itself lead to human-rights violations, including the right to a clean and healthy environment and ultimately contribute to environmental degradation and climate change. This interlinked and interconnected view of environmental degradation, human rights and (forced) migration represents a change of paradigm, a concrete conceptualisation of the states’ duty to protect or common but differentiated responsibility application for both sending and receiving communities.

Reflected also in the decision of the households to migrate or adapt – or use of migration as an adaptive tool when affected by environmental degradation – this nexus enlarges any state’s immediate actions, including as the duty to rescue, to a medium- to long-term approach, which is much more complex.

Thinking and working regionally

Another core finding is that the regional approach, in general proves more effective when developing, initiating and eventually implementing a migration policy.

In September 2016, the UN General Assembly discussed issues related to migration and refugees. In adopting the “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants”, the 193 UN member states recognised the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation at global level. The Global Compact for Migration is framed consistent with target 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which member states committed to cooperate internationally to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration and its scope is defined in Annex II of the New York Declaration.

However, it is clear that the actual migration process at UN level has unfortunately become quite political and, moreover, parties are not eager to address climate-related mobility. Although the number of climate migrants is rising every year and there are no global policies to respond, member states are very reluctant to recognise climate change as a threat. While the Paris Agreement created a sense of political momentum, the actual process has lost its shine and interest of some parties, even as they all continue to face concrete migration struggles around the world.

Residents of of the Lekehio Village on Tanna Island, Vanuatu in 2016. The community faced water shortages and environmental threats at the time. While they didn’t migrate, they consider it an option. Author provided

However, there are previous regional experiences that proven to be more effective than global ones such as environmental (bi- and multi-lateral) agreements with a greater impact in domestic legislation and a better reflection of the priorities countries find to be important in those particular cases.

In general, regional documents have an important characteristic that is significantly lost in global agreements, conventions or any other legal forms, and that is represented by identity. Regions have common and distinctive cultural, social and even legal individualities. These spring from communities and define the countries in an idiosyncratic manner, and can include common historical ties, traditions, social structures or cultural and religious manifestations that are better preserved and protected at regional level than globally. In relation to the environment, regions do have specific approaches that are quite difficult to be conserved in global negotiations, but much easier at regional level, as it is very probable to be shared between countries and even define an entire region.

States not only have to address present migration humanitarian crises, but they also must regulate and enable future mobility impacts due to environmental-rights breaches.

Human mobility is a positive process that has taken place for more than 2,000 years, and because of significant environmental challenges and continuous presence of conflict, it will continue to increase in the future. States should not be surprised by the increasing number of migrants, but instead start regulating mobility taking into account environmental components with a strong rights-based approach, in a preventive mode to assure that basic rights are respected, including that to a clean environment, migrants rights, and human rights.

Cosmin Corendea: Migration, Human Rights and Climate Change in the Pacific.

Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

In August of 2018, members of the Energy Department in Punjab, Pakistan, investigated potential climate-related risks to a number of their projects using the beta version of a new online screening tool, the first of its kind in the country. While screening a project to install solar panels in schools across Punjab, officials realised that water stress and drought, projected to worsen with climate change, pose a serious risk to the successful implementation of the project. For one, they would not be able to properly clean the panels if no water was available. Additionally, as noted by Mr Sadaf Iqbal, Manager (Environmental and Social Safeguard), Energy Department, “poor water quality which could have destroyed the solar panel performance over the long term was not considered. The tool [could help project officers] to incorporate these key considerations in the design at the planning stage.”

Members of the Energy Department testing the Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT)

While a number of national and sub-national governments have sought to mainstream climate change in development planning, Punjab is arguably the first provincial government taking steps to proactively manage climate risks by screening for water-related climate risks on a project-by-project basis, using an online tool. The Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT) is designed to help departments identify and integrate climate considerations into project design, ultimately making their investments more sustainable and resilient to a changing climate. Hosted by the Punjab Planning and Development Department (P&DD), it is currently used by 3 departments: agriculture, irrigation and energy.

A PACT for what?

A highly flood prone country, Pakistan has experienced heavy floods every other year since 1992 (8 incidents in the period between 1992-2015). In 2010, the country recorded its worst ever impacts from heavy flooding due to extreme monsoon rains, incurring losses of 10 billion rupees (PKR) (US $71 million), with at least 1900 deaths and around 160,000 square km of land inundated. The short and long-term impacts of the 2010 floods made the government sit up and take notice of a growing problem.

Like many countries, Pakistan has climate policies and plans; the 2012 National Climate Change Policy was followed by a Framework for Implementation in 2013. But a lack of on-ground implementation led to the 2015 Lahore High Court judgement, in which Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah stated: “For Pakistan, climate change is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling and experiencing its impacts across the country and the region. The country experienced devastating floods during the last three years. These changes come with far reaching consequences and real economic costs.”

In a legal precedent by national and international standards, the judgement directed all of the main federal ministries and provincial level authorities to plan for managing climate change impacts (internationally termed climate change adaptation), paving the way for PACT. 

Climate change no longer a distant threat in Punjab

Climate change is already a reality in Punjab (see box). The High Court’s judgement provided political momentum for government officials to respond to climate change – yet they don’t always know how to respond. PACT is a step toward meeting this need, a first-of-its kind tool which systematically considers water-related climate risks in the project development process, enabling departments to proactively plan for the future. 

Climate impacts in Punjab

Floods are not the only climate-related threat in Punjab and Pakistan. In spite of being drained by 5 rivers, Pakistan has the lowest per capita water availability in South Asia. The country is the 4th largest abstractor of groundwater globally; groundwater depletion and drought are its top-ranking climate-related risks. These are only set to worsen with projected temperature rise, altered precipitation patterns and river flows, coupledwith increasing demand for water to grow crops. Agriculture, which uses 88% of the country’s total water supply, will be especially hard-hit. In 2007-08, heavy rains, rising temperatures and water shortages reduced Pakistan’s agricultural sector growth rate from 4% to 1.5%. Extreme heat is another top climate concern. During the heatwave of 2015, around 1300 people lost their lives. On 30th April 2018, for the first time ever, Pakistan recorded a temperature of 50°C, the highest recorded in the month of April. Within Pakistan, Punjab is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of a changing climate, facing long periods of drought, interspersed with flash floods, riverine floods and urban flooding. Punjab is Pakistan’s most densely populated province and the second largest in terms of area. Its land is predominantly floodplain, which has helped the province become an agricultural hub, accounting for 77% of Pakistan’s total area under agricultural production. On the other hand, this has greatly increased its vulnerability to flooding, particularly in the summer monsoon period when the volume of water in all five rivers rises. Floods lead to loss of human life and destruction of crops and land, with knock-on economic impacts.

How does PACT help manage climate risks?

PACT is a web-based climate and water risk screening tool, developed specifically for, and in consultation with the P&DD and the departments of agriculture, irrigation and energy under the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, in partnership with climate adaptation advisors Acclimatise and international and national experts[1]. The tool has been designed to fit within departments’ existing processes; Mr. Nusrat Tufail Gill, Chief Environment & Climate Change, P&DD highlights that PACT helps “to mainstream climate change in projects and include adaptation during project development and planning stage.” Considering climate risk becomes just another step in the project development cycle.

Adopting a risk-based approach to climate adaptation, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), PACT is underpinned by the best available science on climate change in the region and local stakeholder inputs. It includes 15 climate-related indicators, with a focus on water. Through an intuitive interface, the tool asks project officers to answer a series of questions on the project’s characteristics based on their experience and perception, without requiring climate change expertise. The final result is a risk rating that indicates to what extent achievement of the project’s objectives is at risk due to climate change.

The process of answering PACT’s questions can yield insights into climate vulnerabilities that users may not have previously considered.  For example, officers from the energy department, when testing the same project for solar panels in schools, noted that cloud cover, linked to precipitation, decreases the effectiveness of solar panels. As future climate change may mean more frequent and/or heavy rain in certain areas of Punjab, this needs to be factored into the project design.

For agriculture, PACT can help “identify climate resilient interventions and their sustainability for development of climate smart irrigated agriculture projects in the Punjab,” noted Dr Maqsood Ahmed, Deputy Project Director (Watercourses), Punjab Irrigated-Agriculture Productivity Project (PIPIP), Agriculture Department.

PACT also helps departments make the best use of financial resources; as Dr Muhammad Javed, Director Strategic Planning and Reforms Unit of the Irrigation Department Lahore, noted, “by mainstreaming climate change, the cost of a project could rise initially but in the long run, sustainability of the project would help conserve financial resources.”

Throughout the screening process, PACT points the user toward resources with more detailed information on climate impacts and adaptation solutions. The aim is that over time, departments will develop their own knowledge and capacity on climate change adaptation, in part by using PACT.

On the road to climate resilience in Punjab

Political and legal statements on climate change, like the Lahore High Court judgment, do not always translate into action. There are several factors that have helped PACT become a reality in Punjab. The P&DD took early interest and leadership in adopting a screening tool, providing support throughout the development process. Nominated individuals from the three pilot departments were also actively involved in the process, through testing and providing inputs at each step. Selected officials were trained in the tool’s use from an early stage, which meant they could mentor their own colleagues.

With the finalisation of PACT, P&DD will host it on their website, and has advised all departments to use the tool within their project development cycles. Over time, the aim is that the number of projects which consider climate change from the design phase will increase, ensuring the sustainability and resilience of projects and the communities they serve. While the tool has been designed with the agriculture, irrigation and energy departments, it has the potential to be used by other departments, as well as by non-government and private entities. The tool can also be regularly updated as climate data improves in the region and globally.  

PACT functions as an aid to decision-makers, enabling increased sustainability and resilience in project planning, design and outcomes – a big step forward in terms of proactively and systematically responding to climate change. The Government of Punjab has established itself as a pioneer in the region by investing in building climate change capacity in sectoral departments, setting an example for other national and sub-national governments in South Asia and around the world.

For more information about PACT, please contact Arif Pervaiz (

Cover photo from Asianet-Pakistan /
Final meeting to approve country work programme that aims to boost capacity of Belize to access world’s largest climate fund

Final meeting to approve country work programme that aims to boost capacity of Belize to access world’s largest climate fund

Like other low-lying coastal nations, Belize is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Its geographical location leaves the country exposed to the risk of rising sea levels and increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes that have traditionally hit the area with catastrophic consequences. Additionally, its economic dependence on natural resources heightens its vulnerability to rising temperatures and the resulting impacts on a variety of socio-economic sectors and on the environment of coastal areas and forests.

Research indicates that climate change impacts could cost the twenty-four island nations of the Caribbean a total $11 billion by 2025, but these figures are likely to be an underestimate. The costs of inaction cannot be ignored. And while preparing for such impacts and a low carbon pathway are critical, they are costly. The Green Climate Fund (known as the GCF), offers an attractive source of funding to achieve these goals. The GCF is currently capitalised at USD 10.3 Billion and is the largest climate change fund in the world.

To date, GFC has funded two projects involving Belize, including a multi-country project on energy efficiency and renewable energy implemented through the European Investment Bank (EIB), approved in April 2017; and a national project promoting climate-smart agricultural production implemented through the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD), approved more recently, in February 2019.

Belize has also received support through grant funding from the GCF to boost the capacities of the country to access international finance for investments in climate change projects. Since February 2018, the Belize’s  Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum (MEDP) in collaboration with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) has been running a project, “Capacity Building of National Designated Authority (NDA) and Preparation of Country Strategic Framework”, to strengthen the capacities of the MEDP and to prepare a Country Strategic Framework to guide Belize’s engagement with the GCF.

The project is approximately 14 months in duration, expected to end in April 2019, and is being delivered with the support of Acclimatise, a UK-based climate change adaptation and climate finance consultancy, together with a national consultant.

The MEDP plays an important role in facilitating access to the GCF in Belize and is responsible for acting as the focal point for communications with the GCF and national organisations, identifying national funding priorities, giving no-objection to project proposals, and nominating national organisations for accreditation.

Since the project inception, a broad consultative process has been set up, involving all relevant public sector agencies, businesses and business associations as well as academia and civil society organisations in Belize. Through three workshops and a large number of one-to-one meetings with key stakeholders and donors, conducted between April and November 2018, the MEDP and the project team have built a Country Programme containing a pipeline of potential projects to be funded by GCF and key steps for their implementation. This pipeline not only provides funding priorities for climate change but also aligns with the country’s sustainable development priorities and key sectors.

A final meeting will be hosted by MEDP on 27th March 2019 from 8:30 to 4:30 pm at the Radisson Hotel in Belize City.

The meeting aims to present key aspects of the draft Country Programme and the priority projects proposed for GCF funding and receive feedback from participants. All relevant stakeholders in Belize have been invited to provide comments on the draft document and to participate to the consultative process to inform and validate the Country Programme. By project completion, Belize will have significantly increased its capacity on accessing GCF finance.


About Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum (MEDP)

The Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum in Belize formulates and recommends national development policies, strategies and programmes to promote macroeconomic stability, sustainable socioeconomic development and the reduction of poverty.

About the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC):

The Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) coordinates the region’s response to climate change. Officially opened in August 2005, the Centre is the key node for information on climate change issues and the region’s response to mitigating and adapting to climate change. CCCCC sought accreditation to the GCF in 2015 to undertake and scale up both mitigation and adaptation projects across the region in order to drive a paradigm shift in the region’s development patterns.

About the Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a global fund created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change. GCF helps developing countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change. It seeks to promote a paradigm shift to low-emission and climate-resilient development, taking into account the needs of nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

It was set up by the 194 countries who are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010, as part of the Convention’s financial mechanism. It aims to deliver equal amounts of funding to mitigation and adaptation, while being guided by the Convention’s principles and provisions.


Ms. Yvonne Hyde, of the Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum:

Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons
West Bengal’s climate change conundrum Part III: Extraordinarily rapid sea-level rise in Sundarbans turns families into refugees

West Bengal’s climate change conundrum Part III: Extraordinarily rapid sea-level rise in Sundarbans turns families into refugees

By Chirag Dhara

Editor’s note: Kolkata and the Sundarbans face a deadly melange of climate change impacts: intensifying heat waves and rainfall extremes, an exceptionally rapid rise in sea levels and intensifying cyclones. Chirag Dhara, a climate physicist, visited Kolkata and the Sundarbans in November 2018. He interviewed a wide cross-section of people – college students and professionals, taxi drivers and street dwellers – on their experience of changes in their city’s climate.

He also spoke to experts and activists working in health, science and environment. This five-part series integrates public perception with expert opinion. It contextualizes local climate trends within country-wide and global trends, using photographs, videos, satellite imagery, infographics, concept schematics and the latest developments in climate research. Important scientific concepts have been simplified to better explain the causes and consequences of these changes. This is the third part of the series.

Read all the stories in the series here

West Bengals climate change conundrum Part III: Extraordinarily rapid sea-level rise in Sundarbans turns families into refugees
Primary School on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans in January 2014. Image courtesy: Nagraj Adve
The same school four years later in November 2017, consumed by the rising waters of the Bay of Bengal. Image courtesy: Utpal Giri

The corroding Sundarbans

The photographs above of a school on the edge of Sagar Island, in the Indian Sundarbans, were taken less than four years apart. Classes were in full swing when Nagraj Adve, a climate change activist and writer, visited in early 2014. At the time, the school was a few hundred metres from the water line. While it was not uncommon even then for high tide waters in the monsoon to reach the school, waters in the Bay of Bengal have swelled so rapidly that the sea has now completely swallowed the school and intrudes a hundred metres beyond it.

The school has moved half a kilometre further inland as have families that chose to continue living on the island. Others have left, now effectively climate refugees. Sadly, the plight of the school is the rule, not the exception, in many parts of the Sundarbans.

The two overlaid images of the Sundarbans below were acquired by NASA satellites 19 years apart. A cursory visual inspection is all it takes to see how the coastline has eroded almost everywhere along the Bay-facing coastline. Some small islands have gone completely under.

The Indian Sundarbans images by NASA’s Landsat satellites 19 years apart. Left: November 2018. Right: November 1999. Note the erosion of the bay facing the coastline. Data access:

Why is the Sundarbans eroding away? What does its future hold? To what extent are we — humans — responsible for these children having lost their school?

Global sea levels are rising

The rise in global sea level on average from 1993 – present. Data source: Satellite sea level observations. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Sea levels have been rising in all the world’s oceans for the past century. There are many natural reasons why sea levels change, but also two major ways in which human-induced global warming is impacting sea levels today.

For one, with rising temperatures, trillions of tonnes of ice have melted in the past century from glaciers and ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica because of global warming, adding vast quantities of water to the oceans.

A time lapse of Earth for the past 32 years showing how glaciers are declining. Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica are not evident in these images because these ice sheets are kilometres thick. Please see the Q&A section below for details. Data: NASA’s Landsat, ESA’s Sentinel 2A satellite imagery among others. Visualization: Google Earth Engine.

For another, water expands as it warms causing the same quantity of water to occupy more space. The combined effect of these two processes is a rise in global sea levels of about 3 mm/year on average.

Q&A: How are Greenland and Antarctica contributing to sea-level rise?

Greenland in the northern hemisphere and Antarctica at the south pole each hold enormous quantities of frozen fresh water in their kilometre(s)-thick ice sheets. As global temperatures rise, these ice sheets are rapidly melting, adding water to the world’s oceans.

Satellites monitoring ice thickness found that nearly 2 trillion tonnes of ice has melted from Antarctica while Greenland has shed nearly 4 trillion tonnes in 14 years of observation alone (2002 – 2016).

There has been moderate ice accretion is some parts of Antarctica driven by ocean circulation patterns. Yet, on the whole, the continent has been losing ice rapidly because of ice-melt. Source:NASA satellite observations (GRACE)
Greenland ice is melting twice as fast as on Antarctica. Source:NASA satellite observation (GRACE)

In addition, water expands as its temperature rises, as do most substances, in a process called thermal expansion. This causes the same mass of ocean water to occupy more space at a higher temperature contributing yet more to sea-level rise. Thermal expansion of water for even a small temperature rise so important that it is considered the single biggest cause of anthropogenic sea-level rise in the long run, even more important than ice-melt.

The combined effect of these phenomena has been to raise global sea-levels by about 3 mm/year on average in recent decades. 

However, the seas are rising considerably faster in some of the world’s oceans than in others.

Uneven sea-level rise around the world. The rate at which sea-levels are rising (mm/year) relative to the global average during the satellite era 1993 – 2018. Reds denotes a rate of rise above the global average and opposite for the blues. Of particular interest here is that sea levels are rising faster than the global average in the Bay of Bengal. Source: PNAS

Sea levels are rising much faster along the Sundarbans’ coastline

Natural factors such as how heat is transported by ocean currents and periodic climatic phenomena such as El Niño are some major reasons for why regional differences in sea-level rise come about. Yet, global warming plays into this as well. Temperatures are rising faster in some parts of the world’s oceans than others. Consequently, water expands faster swelling the seas more rapidly in those regions.

Primarily for this reason, waters of the Bay of Bengal have been rising up to twice as fast as the global average at about 4.4 – 6.3mm/year.

Unhappily, physical features specific to the Sundarbans and extensive upstream damming of the rivers flowing into it has combined to make the situation even graver.

Q&A: Why should a few mm/year rise in sea level be of concern?

A sea-level rise of 3 mm per year may not seem like much. Yet, it can produce significantly greater inland sea water intrusion over time especially in low lying coastal areas.

The gently sloping area adjoining the coast is called the Continental Shelf, where the average downward slope is only about 0.1o. The 3 cm rise that would occurs in a decade, at current rates of sea-level rise, would cause sea levels to intrude further inland by a disproportionately larger 17 meters (65 feet).


Sea levels today are about 20c m higher than pre-industrial times (1850s) meaning that land has ceded about 115 metres to the sea in coastal areas with gentle elevation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report released in October 2018 warns that sea levels may rise up to 77 cm by 2100 even if global temperatures rose “only” to 1.5 C in the next 80 years. The reality we are presently facing is far worse. We are currently on track for temperature rise of 3 to 4 C by 2100.

The sinking Sundarbans

Contours of river deltas are naturally dynamic being shaped by sediment deposition by the vast amounts of soft, fertile silt transported by the rivers constituting them. Land accretes by sedimentation, but is lost by silt compactification and coastal erosion. Sediment transport into the Sundarbans has been severely affected by upstream damming, especially the Farakka dam in West Bengal built on the Ganga in 1975. Dams trap sediment and greatly reduce downstream transport. As a result, subsidence have outpaced accretion on average in the Indian part of the Sundarbans and the Delta is sinking at a rate of about 2 to 4mm/year.

The combined effect of already high rate of sea-level rise in the Bay of Bengal and land subsidence has been an effective sea-level rise in the Sundarbans that is nearly three times as fast as the global average (~ 8mm/year), and as high as 12mm/year on Sagar Island.

The consequences are all too obvious and exactly what has occurred: Satellites have found the sea advancing by a staggering 200 metres (650 feet)/year in parts of the Sundarbans, and a total of 170 square kilometres (the size of Kolkata city) has surrendered to the sea in the 37 years between 1973 and 2010 alone.

These are facts that students and teachers of Boatkhali Kadambini School need little convincing about.

Impacts of sea-level rise on the Sundarbans

Higher sea levels have devastating impacts on low-lying coastal habitats, and the Sundarbans is one of the most densely populated yet biodiverse ones in the world.

Aside from the school on Sagar Island becoming permanently inundated in a space of merely four years, the entire stretch where there were houses and agricultural land has been swallowed by the sea. The large-scale destruction of Mangroves has exacerbated coastal erosion. The surging seas have turned fertile agricultural lands and groundwater increasingly saline.

Families are moving inland or leaving the island entirely, often to big cities like Kolkata, effectively becoming climate change refugees.

There is yet another tragedy in store for the Sundarbans. A study focusing on the Bangladeshi Sundarbans (contiguous with the Indian Sundarbans) found that the remaining Tiger habitat and population would be almost entirely wiped out for a 28 cm rise in sea levels above the 2000 levels, which is likely to happen in the next 50 to 90 years.

Sea levels are expected to continue rising with increasing intensity in the Sundarbans. The fate of the Boatkhali Kadambini Primary School is an early warning sign, a precursor, of the devastation the Sundarbans faces. It is the fate that awaits all life in the Sundarbans, humans and animals alike, if we do not heed these signs and act at once to adapt if not to mitigate.

This article was originally published on Firstpost. Chirag Dhara is a climate physicist currently freelancing for Firstpost. You can get in touch with him on

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash
Toward a flood-resilient Kolkata

Toward a flood-resilient Kolkata

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Kolkata’s flood forecasting and early warning system (FFEWS), supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), will be India’s first comprehensive city-level early warning system. Designed to provide forecasts and real-time updates using sensors installed in key points throughout the city, the system will enable informed decision making before and during disasters.

How the FFEWS works. Source: ADB.

The system includes a series of complementary components: weather forecasts; flood models for various intensities of rainfall; real-time information on key pump status, sump and canal water levels, actual rainfall, inundation levels, among others; and a messaging system to provide warnings and real-time information to city officials and citizens. The FFEWS will enable flood-informed urban planning, improve the flood awareness and safety of Kolkata’s communities, reduce economic losses and flood-impacts on livelihoods, and reduce the impacts of flood-induced traffic jams.

The system was designed with the people of Kolkata at its centre and aims to empower them so they can act quickly and appropriately to reduce flood risks. During the design phase key stakeholders were consulted to identify the best places for monitoring. Consultation with citizens and borough engineers helped identify locations for real-time data collection on rainfall and flood risk.

Since 2000, phased investments carried out through ADB-supported projects have already helped reduce Kolkata’s flooding problems by about 4,800 hectares, planned projects are expected to provide a further reduction of roughly 6,000 hectares. The projects are enabling the city to systematically expand the sewerage and drainage network in Kolkata, including flood-prone areas; increasing sewage treatment capacity; improving water supply through reductions in non-revenue water; managing solid waste; and increasing operational efficiencies and building capacity to better sustain the services it provides.

Download the full publication and learn more about the key features and benefits by clicking here.

Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

By Sophie Mbugua, Climate Home News

Dirty flood waters, impassable roads and submerged slums have become the norm every time it rains in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

In August, the authorities took drastic action, bulldozing around 2,000 buildings in the flood plain, including shopping malls worth millions of dollars. After a lull, they are due to resume demolitions this month, national media reports.

The ongoing October-December rainy season is on track to bring – mercifully – average volumes of water. Yet the city’s flood risk is rising, as climate change brings more extremes of rainfall. Experts tell Climate Home News better waste management, urban planning and warning systems are needed to protect its growing population.

Numerous informal and formal settlements without adequate sewerage and sanitation services edge onto the three Nairobi Rivers: Mathare, Ngong and Nairobi.

At Hazina village, one of 22 villages in south B division along the Ngong, the river chokes with refuse, making the water hardly visible.

“It’s the village’s dumping site,” Anne Keli, a 46-year-old mother of 12 tells Climate Home News. She has lived in the village for two decades and says flooding has been particularly bad in the past two years.

“The water reaches the village at a high force compared to previous years but gets stuck due to the plastics, paper bags and assorted waste in the river, blocking its flow,” Keli says. “Since we are on a lower area, the run-off from higher areas headed to the river has no place to go as the river is full. So, where else does it go? Into our houses.”

During the long rains in April, Keli’s family left their flooded home and camped in the county commissioner’s grounds. She lost around 30,000 Kenyan shillings ($290) worth of goods from the shop she runs less than a kilometre from the river.

The provincial administration made some efforts to clean the river during the flooding, but as soon as the rainy season ended it clogged up again, Keli says. “People keep building close to the river, reducing its size by day. People are asked to remove the structures with every flood but after the rains, everything moves back to normal.”

Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) has installed more than 72 monitoring stations across the country in a bid to provide more timely and precise information.

Brian Chunguli, a county disaster management official, says a UK-funded programme will allow them to monitor live flooding levels from satellites and alert residents as waters rise.

“We hope to respond before flooding happens, and collected data will inform the disaster policy and interventions as we will compare long term data showing at what rainfall levels has certain areas flooded,” explains Chunguli.

Long-term projections of East African rainfall vary, with most climate models predicting heavier inundations as temperatures rise.

Mary Kilavi, the Nairobi County director of meteorological services, is mapping the areas likely to flood in Nairobi given a specific amount of rainfall. South B and South C on the Ngong river are hotspots, along with Mathare by the Nairobi river.

“We are using a model that simulates surface water flooding using previous city flooding data corrected over time,” she explains. “We want to find out with a specific amount of rainfall, which areas will flood.”

This will help the authorities to move beyond a reactive approach to systematic preparation, she says. “Since weather is given in probabilistic terms, systems don’t act fast. We will establish the probability of achieving the estimated flood causing rainfall, then with stakeholders, agree at what point to act, the actions to take and funds to be set aside for the actions.”

The solutions range from cleaning up waste to creating green urban spaces and changing land management upriver. Many of these face political, as well as practical, obstacles.

There is a directive against building within 30 metres of the riverside, for example, but it is haphazardly enforced. Many owners of the recently demolished structures insisted they had permits to build there.

“It requires funds and land to relocate and rebuild the structures amid political interference, as area politicians incite the residents not to move,” says Barre Ahmed, assistant county commissioner for Starehe sub county.

Dr Lawrence Esho, chair of the Kenya Institute of Planners, calls for a drainage master plan to cover the entire metropolitan area.

“We have a flooding crisis but the issue is bigger than the illegal buildings. It is more of the uphill destruction of land which we are doing nothing about, too much concrete pavements aggregating the run off flow, blocked drains and climate change,” says Esho. “Over the last 20 to 25 years the city has also gone through the change from bungalows built over a huge area to high-rise apartment blocks… without a drainage city master plan change.”

Builders should leave gaps between pavements for grass “to allow the water sip under when it rains,” he advises.

In the meantime, Keli can only make sure she has a quick exit strategy ready. She says: “I worry at every drizzle. But this time, I am prepared with a bag packed for any eventuality to rescue my children. As for the shop, there is little I can do. Until the river is cleaned, I still believe this village will flood if the rain keeps coming as they did these two years.”

This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and is shared under Creative Commons license. This article was produced as part of an African reporting fellowship supported by Future Climate for Africa.

Cover photo by Sophie Mbuaga: The Ngong river is choked with garbage as it passes through Hazina village.
African Development Bank launches climate risk management plan

African Development Bank launches climate risk management plan

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Last week, the African Development Bank (AfDB) announced the launch of its first climate risk management initiative. The Africa Disaster Risk Financing programme (ADRiFi) will run from 2019 to 2023 with the aim to improve the bank’s ability to assess climate risks, respond to disasters, and review adaptation measures.

Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal have expressed interest in taking part in the programme, which is said to save $4.40 in future relief measures for every $1 invested in resilience measures today. Countries will receive initial financing to help them assess their climate risks and associated costs.

“Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change, prone to a wide variety of natural disasters including droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. However, disaster risk management suffers from inadequate financing and challenges in the deployment of available funds”, said Atsuko Toda, Bank Director for Agricultural Finance and Rural Development.

ADRiFi will promote such mechanisms as index-based insurance, which allows for pay-outs being disbursed automatically when pre-defined risk thresholds are exceeded. The insurance schemes shall help poor communities reduce their vulnerability to climate change in order to protect their lives and livelihoods.

In order to ensure cooperation in preparing, developing and implementing climate change resilience projects, AfDB signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Risk Capacity, an agency of the African Union using finance mechanisms such as risk pooling and risk transfer to enable a pan-African climate response.

Cover photo by Oxfam/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0): Residents of Beletweyne, Somalia, wade through the muddy water.
Landslides are growing risk to poorest

Landslides are growing risk to poorest

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Peruvian Ministry of Defense/Flickr (CC BY2.0): A 15 March 2018 image of a landslide near Cusco, Peru.
After the storm passes: the reality of hurricane aftermaths

After the storm passes: the reality of hurricane aftermaths

By Georgina Wade

On 20 September 2017, an onslaught of catastrophic weather changed the lives of 3 million people forever. One year later, residents of Puerto Rico are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that resulted in economic losses of nearly $140 billion and killed nearly 3,000 people directly and in its aftermath.

The tenth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record and the most intense tropical cyclone worldwide of 2017, it was a mix of highly favourable environmental conditions that allowed Maria to undergo explosive intensification as it approached the Caribbean islands.

It was the strongest storm to make landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years with sustained winds of 155 mph (ca 250 km/h) resulting in a blackout across the entire island and dumping six months’ worth of rain in less than four days. Trees were uprooted, homes were destroyed, and widespread flooding caused more than 1.1 million Puerto Ricans to register for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid. With no power, running water was cut off for much of the population. Communications to and from Puerto Rico became nearly impossible for days. And when the cloud cover finally broke, the chaos during the storm was only matched by the disarray following it.

The aftermath

With the island’s power grid knocked out, it was only last month that electricity was finally restored to all customers. Emergency health services were left paralysed trapping people in need of care in their homes without access to medication or telephone service.

While previous government estimates had the death toll at 64, an independent study from George Washington University, released 11 months after the storm, found that an estimated 2,975 had died after Maria. The analysis suggested that Hurricane Maria was the second-deadliest storm to ever hit U.S. shores, following the Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900 that killed an estimated 6,000 people.

Maria demolished 87,094 homes, with another 385,703 sustaining major damage. Up to a quarter of a million people were displaced. A year later, blue tarps covering damaged houses can still be seen by overpassing aircraft. What were supposed to be temporary fixes, are now tattered and fading in the sun as the island struggles to rebuild.

More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans left the island temporarily, with about 11,000 currently living in New York. However, housing funds set aside for Puerto Rican families forced to flee have now ceased. Just last month, a judge ruled that families had to move out from temporary FEMA housing by 14 September.

A long road ahead

Long after a storm dissipates, people still face a harsh reality. A single hurricane can undo years of development and plunge prosperous households into poverty from one day to the next. And while people are quick to focus on the immediate physical costs from hurricane strikes, the resounding social costs can be felt for decades to come.

Grenada, for example, is still dealing with the consequences of being hit successively in 2004 and 2005 by Hurricanes Ivan and Emily. Estimated losses amounted to 200 percent of gross domestic product and Grenada remains in “debt distress” according to the International Monetary Fund.

The Caribbean happens to be the most tourism-dependent region in the world. More than 47 million international visitors travelled to the Caribbean in 2016, spending $31 billion, according to an Oxford Economics study. When hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the Caribbean last fall, the region lost nearly 1 million visitors and an estimated $900 million USD in tourism-related spending. As tourism infrastructure is restored, further losses totalling more than $3 billion USD are expected over the next four years.

Such disasters also have an effect on mental health. Psychologists estimate that 30 to 50 percent of the Puerto Rican population is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety following Hurricane Maria.

“The storm takes away the foundations of society. Everything you thought gave you certainty is gone,” says psychologist Domingo Marques, an associate professor at Albizu University in San Juan. “You see people anxious, depressed, scared.”

Everyday routines that once included work and school commutes can come grinding to a halt, only contributing to the semblance of disarray many feel following such catastrophic events. Survivors may bounce back after a few months, or they may experience ongoing stressors, such as financial issues or problems finding permanent and safe housing.

While early disaster recovery efforts often focus on physical reconstruction, psychological recovery efforts typically end up on the back burner.

Building back better

Work towards a more resilient Caribbean starts with building back better. With a changing climate promising more intense storms in the future, it’s increasingly important that action is taken to not only recover from a storm, but to increase resilience to future ones.

In January 2018, following the Caribbean’s devastating hurricane season, The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) held its eventBuilding Back Better: A resilient Caribbean after the 2017 hurricanes”. The conference addressed four pillars for resilience building: Ecosystems and planning; Codes and practices; Economies; and Governance. Tying in with The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the central idea is that stakeholders should share responsibility in reducing disaster risk and that growing disaster risk is putting a stronger emphasis on better preparedness and overall resilience.

Roundtable discussions included a debate on best approaches to financing and implementing post-disaster resilience building. As noted by several of the presenters, the damage caused by an extreme event can be two to three times higher than the annual GDP of the countries affected. This can mean that funds get diverted from other annual budgets such as education, transport or general development. And with a short timeframe between immediate disaster recovery and preparation for the next event, efforts to build long-term resilience are especially challenging.

Despite this, disasters caused by storms like Irma and Maria open windows of opportunity to rethink the measures needed to ensure a sustainable future. In some cases, disasters can be used to generate political momentum to increase climate resilience. For example, following the almost total devastation to the island of Dominica due to Hurricane Maria, the country responded with its intention to be the “first climate resilient country in the world”.

But many things are needed to build back better. To begin with, it requires a deep understanding of the causes of disaster, recovery processes and future climate risks. Additionally, it requires high levels of commitment from policymakers, the international aid agencies and donors supporting recovery, and from communities already engaged in recovery.

In their briefing paper, ODI introduced four principles that can help guide stakeholders as they transition from immediate responses to longer-term recovery.

  • Learn from history and avoid repeating it: understanding the historical and cultural factors that led to disaster is critical to identifying solutions.
  • Develop a holistic recovery framework: recovery frameworks should be based on priorities and activities in existing development strategies and land-use plans, to avoid creating a parallel planning system.
  • Create transparent, accountable and participatory processes: building consensus on key issues requires involving the widest possible array of relevant stakeholders
  • Leave no one behind: Certain types of intervention can deepen marginalisation. Recovery efforts should be built on the principle of ‘leave no one behind’.

Ultimately, disasters can be both a crisis from which to learn and an opportunity to do things better. While hurricanes are a common feature of the Caribbean, there has been limited investment in resilience building to address the many social repercussions of such storms. To avoid further human suffering, ‘building back better’ must become central to development efforts. Climate-related disasters should be used to challenge current decision making and promote investment on long-term climate resilience in the Caribbean and globally.

Cover photo by US Government (public domain): While conducting search and rescue in the mountains of Puerto Rico a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations Black Hawk located this home with HELP painted it is roof.
Americans who live far from coasts should also be worried about flooding

Americans who live far from coasts should also be worried about flooding

Editor’s note: This is an article that was written last year, however, the lessons from Hurricane Harvey still hold true and are also relevant to the aftermath of Hurricane Florence earlier this month.

By Nina Lam, Louisiana State University

Catastrophic flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is the latest reminder that floods kill more people in the United States than any other type of natural disaster and are the most common natural disaster worldwide. Many communities along U.S. coastlines have begun to take heed and have slowed development in coastal flood zones. The bad news, as Harvey shows, is that inland communities are also at risk – and in some, development in flood zones is increasing.

With post-doctoral research associate Yi Qiang and graduate students, I recently studied development patterns in the United States from 2001 to 2011. We found that while new urban development in flood zones near coasts has generally declined, it has grown in inland counties. This is a worrisome trend. It implies that people who have experienced flooding on the coast migrate inland, but may not realize that they are still vulnerable if they relocate to an inland flood zone.

That’s what we have seen firsthand here in Louisiana. Thousands of people fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and settled 80 miles inland in Baton Rouge. A decade later, many of these same people lost everything again when a 500-year flood event struck Baton Rouge in August 2016.

Climate change effects, such as sea level rise and potentially more extreme weather, are increasing the risk of flooding, hurricanes and storm surges in coastal areas. Some communities are considering moving coastal populations inland to protect them. However, our research shows that people should be very careful about moving inland. They can still face flood hazards if their property is located in a high-risk flood zone.

Not just a coastal issue

Flooding can happen wherever large rainstorms stall over an area, as we have seen in Boulder, Colorado in 2013; in Texas and Louisiana in 2016; and over Houston now. However, if communities take steps to reduce flood risk, they can mitigate the danger to people and property.

When we assess flood risk in a given location, we consider three questions.

  • Hazard: How likely is a flood event?
  • Exposure: How many people and physical assets are located there?
  • Vulnerability: Do people have the capacity to deal with the event?

Flood risk is the product of these three elements.

We can decrease flood risk by reducing any of the three elements. For example, communities can reduce hazard by building flood control structures, such as dams and levees. They can use laws and policies, such as land use controls, to reduce exposure by steering housing development away from flood zones. And they can make people and property less vulnerable through other measures, such as elevating houses and developing better flood warning systems and emergency preparedness plans.

How can people learn about flood risks where they live? The Federal Emergency Management Agency has created flood zone maps for most parts of the United States. The maps are based on models that consider factors such as elevation, average rainfall and whether a location is near a river or lake that could overflow.

FEMA maps classify flood zones into three categories: high-risk, moderate-low risk and undetermined. High-risk zones have at least a 1 percent chance of being inundated by flood in any given year. These areas are also called base flood or 100-year flood zones.

To obtain a federally insured mortgage on property in a 100-year flood zone, buyers are required to have flood insurance. This policy is designed to make people less vulnerable in the event of a flood, but it increases the cost of home ownership. As a result, flood zone designations can be very contentious.

100-year flood zones are based on a combination of statistics, hydrogeology and society’s tolerance for risk.

Moving into harm’s way

We undertook this study because we wanted to develop a clear baseline showing how Americans’ exposure to flood hazards has changed over the past decade. To assess levels of exposure to flood hazards nationwide, we compiled urban development, flood zone and census data and overlaid them on a county map of the nation.

Overall, we estimated that as of 2011, more than 25 million Americans lived in flood zones. We also found that inland communities were less responsive to flood hazards than coastal communities and were doing a poorer job of steering development out of flood-prone areas.

The three U.S. counties with the largest concentrations of people living in flood zones are located on the Gulf of Mexico. They are Cameron Parish, Louisiana (population 6,401, with 93.6 percent in flood zones); Monroe County, Florida (population 66,804, with 91.4 percent in flood zones); and Galveston County, Texas (population 241,204, with 82.8 percent in flood zones).

These are all coastal communities, where flood risks should be well-known to all residents. But we also found inland counties where the share of the total population living in flood zones increased over the decade we examined. A number of those with the largest increases are bordered by rivers, such as Marshall County in western Kentucky, which sits between Kentucky Lake and the Ohio River. We also identified several hot spots where urban development has increased in coastal flood zones, including New York City and Miami.

Heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey is forecast to reach hundreds of miles inland. National Weather Service

Reducing exposure now

This alarming trend points to a need for more awareness, education and communication about flood risk, especially in inland counties. More affordable housing in nonflood zones and strategies to mitigate floods are also needed, especially inland.

Why would people move to inland flood zone areas? Some may be unaware of the risk. Others may plan to adapt through steps such as elevating their houses or buying flood insurance. Still other may accept the risk because they want to be closer to relatives or workplaces, or for other cultural, political or institutional reasons.

Our analysis has pinpointed a number of regions of concern. The next step is to produce in-depth analyses of these regions, in order to understand why people are locating in flood zones there, and to devise local strategies to reduce overall U.S. flood risks. Climate change, land subsidence or sinking, and construction of new levees and dams will change long-term flood exposure in these areas over time. Therefore, local governments, mortgage lenders and homeowners should review current FEMA flood hazard maps for accuracy.

This research provides national context for a detailed study that we are carrying out examining resilience and sustainability in the Mississippi River Delta. Our goal is to understand how human actions combined with natural environmental conditions may have caused land to sink in the Mississippi Delta. Our research on development in flood zones reminds us that flooding problems in low-lying coastal regions are not unique and also affect areas well away from the shore.The Conversation

Nina Lam, Distinguished Professor of Louisiana Environmental Studies, Louisiana State University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Steve Zumwalt/FEMA (public domain): Jamestown, Colo., Sep. 15, 2013 — The small mountain town of 300 has been cut off because of Boulder County flood.