Friday, December 05, 2008

New Orleans’ Recovery Needs “Unconventional Thinking"

Innovations Report 04.12.2008

Calling New Orleans "the canary in the global warming coal mine", two Tulane University professors say the Crescent City must embrace unconventional thinking in order to recover in a sustainable way from Hurricane Katrina while withstanding a continual threat from rising sea levels, diminishing wetlands and future storms. They stress that the number one priority for Louisiana should be to combat global warming and accelerated sea-level rise.


In the commentary "Sustaining costal urban ecosystems" published in the latest issue of the London-based journal Nature Geoscience, Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, associate professor in Tulane's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Douglas J. Meffert, deputy director of the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, also say New Orleans must concentrate more of its population on the 50 percent of its land mass that lies above sea level.

"New Orleans could accommodate more than 300,000 residents above sea level, which by U.S. Census Bureau estimates is approximately the current population of the entire city," the authors write, citing a recent demographic study by colleague Richard Campanella, assistant research professor in Tulane's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. "The population density in New Orleans immediately before the exodus caused by Hurricane Katrina was only about 2,500 residents per square kilometer. By comparison, the present-day population density in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, a city in a broadly similar environmental setting, is almost 4,500 residents per square kilometer."
Törnqvist and Meffert also point out that much of the city's above sea level land remains vacant and undeveloped while urban sprawl continues in areas known to flood. Urban sprawl in flood-prone areas should be banned, they say, in New Orleans as well as in vulnerable areas nationwide such as St. Louis, MO. On the other hand rebuilding efforts in floodplains should be restricted to raised, storm-resistant structures like those featured in Brad Pitt's "Make it Right" project.

The professors also contend that efforts at wetlands restoration are currently "miniscule" and need to be ramped up, along with a better understanding of the role rising sea levels play in exacerbating the devastation brought on by hurricanes.
New Orleans offers an unprecedented opportunity to find more effective ways to make urban coastal areas safer around the world, Törnqvist and Meffert say.

"A concerted effort to restore and transform a coastal urban center whose functioning is inextricably tied to its surrounding natural ecosystem can only lead to new knowledge and understanding that will prove critical once comparable conditions confront Shanghai, Tokyo and New York City," the authors write. Nature Geoscience is a monthly, multi-disciplinary journal aimed at bringing together top-quality research across the spectrum of the earth sciences along with relevant work in related areas.

Michael Strecker | Quelle: Newswise Science News
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CUBA: Coastal Dwellers to Relocate Away from the Sea

By Dalia Acosta

Remains of coastal homes in La Playa. Credit:Raquel Sierra

SANTA CRUZ DEL SUR, Cuba, Dec 3 (IPS) - She was born, grew up and lived all her life just a few steps from the sea, in the part of the city that everyone knows simply as La Playa (the beach). Although she was lucky enough to return to a home and belongings that withstood Hurricane Paloma’s mighty waves, Iramis Rodríguez has made up her mind to move inland.

"If they’ll take me, I’ll go," the 30-year-old Santa Cruz resident told IPS. Rodríguez is part of the janitorial staff in a government facility located "right here in Santa Cruz," she says.

The one metre high storm surge left its mark on the walls of her house. The roof took some damage and the mattresses and appliances got wet, but nothing that the sun cannot fix. "Now, we need to help those who are in worse shape, while we wait for a permanent solution," says Rodríguez’s husband, Ramón del Campo.
The monument in memory of the victims of the Nov. 9, 1932 hurricane -- the worst natural disaster in the history of Cuba -- is visible from her door. Closer to the coast stands a cross marking the height reached by the storm surge that tragic day: some six metres, according to the few survivors.


Some 3,000 people were killed that day in 1932, "stabbed" by all sorts of objects that were hurled through the air by the powerful winds, trapped inside their homes, swallowed up by the sea as it pulled back, or scorched among the debris burnt by order of the authorities who wanted to prevent an epidemic at all costs. This time, when the families returned on Nov. 11 to this town located some 600 kilometres east of Havana, the landscape they found was both similar and different to the one left 76 years ago. Dogs with glazed eyes roamed streets that had turned alien; here and there an animal was trapped under boards. But the community had survived.

The first line of houses, along the sea, had disappeared almost completely. In some places, nothing was left, only part of the foundations, as a reminder that there had once been a home there. Not even the sturdiest dwellings -- which had been chosen by the neighbours as a safe place to store their refrigerators -- were left standing. "This is like the 1932 hurricane without the death toll," Alicia Reitor, 58, remarked to IPS. Reitor was part of the first Catholic Church brigades that came to the coastal area to bring "some material aid, but most of all to lend spiritual support to these people who have lost everything," she said.

More than 20,000 people were evacuated from Santa Cruz del Sur, a municipality of 49,900 people, as Hurricane Paloma -- the third major hurricane to hit Cuba this year -- approached. While in 1932, the entire town was left waiting for an evacuation train that never arrived, this time not a single person stayed back in the poor district of La Playa. When Paloma struck, it damaged 9,022 homes: 1,155 were totally destroyed, 1,422 partially wrecked, and 1,227 lost their roofs. Of the 480 houses in La Playa, about half were completely razed, and the ones that were left standing all suffered damages to some degree.


Fernando Zamora, 51, had decided with his family that he would go back to their house to make sure that their most important possessions were secured. He planned to take a few things to a safer place: the refrigerator, the television set, and maybe their new living room furniture, for which they had made so many sacrifices to buy.

A worker at a shrimp farming company, Zamora spent the hours prior to the arrival of Hurricane Paloma helping in the evacuation, as he is a member of the Municipal Defence Council. "As it turned out, I couldn’t make it in time to get our things, but I was sure the house would survive," he told IPS. When they came back three days later, the only things the family could salvage from the wreckage were a few pots, some clothes and the odd photograph. Zamora, like Ramón del Campo and so many other men, felt that they had to try to salvage the unsalvageable, putting up makeshift walls and roofs to live through the aftermath.

The women recovered clothes from the mud and the water’s edge, set up collective kitchens to cook meals with the free food distributed by the government and some local ingredients, took care of the pets and small livestock and tried as much as possible to keep the children from feeling the effects of the disaster. "Men and women deal with this situation differently. The women turn to the doctors to talk, they express what they’re feeling. The men stay back; it’s like they don’t want to show that this is affecting them emotionally. This way of coping could be worse," psychiatrist Daysi Roque told IPS.

Roque was part of a group of 20 specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and nurses, that travelled to Santa Cruz del Sur four days after Hurricane Paloma hit to conduct an emergency assessment, with the aim of detecting any cases of people affected by trauma or severely distressed. "There are different ways of helping people deal with what they’re going through: counselling, talking, listening, and, especially, letting them know that we’re always going to be there for them," Yoandro Ávalo said to IPS. Ávalo was part of the Cuban Red Cross team that travelled to Santa Cruz del Sur to help with the evacuation and the post-disaster recovery efforts.
Cuba has suffered an estimated 10 billion dollars in losses from the damages caused by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, when they stormed through the island on Aug. 30, Sept. 8-9, and Nov. 9, respectively. But statistics say nothing of all the memories the hurricanes took with them: family photographs, children’s toys, books painstakingly collected by a local teacher throughout her life.


"If you were given the chance to leave this place, would you go?" IPS asked more than 15 La Playa residents. The answer, in a sad but firm tone, was invariably yes. That seems to be the only solution possible for communities like Santa Cruz del Sur, Cajío, Guanimar, or so many others, which year after year live under the threat posed by the sea. In 2002, an official report calculated that there were 244 neighbourhoods, villages or towns, home to 1.4 million people, that were vulnerable to coastal floods. "These are areas located one metre below the mean sea level and at a distance of less than one thousand metres from the coastline," according to the report presented by Cuba at a regional meeting on "Local Management and Risk Reduction within Human Settlements in the Caribbean Basin". With the increase in cyclone intensity and sea-level rise projections, the Cuban government has recognised that the only solution for these communities is to relocate further inland. The decision is already being implemented in Santa Cruz del Sur, with the construction of temporary housing for those left homeless by the hurricane.

The site, three kilometres from La Playa, is already being conditioned to build several apartment buildings, for the relocation of local residents. "We grew up hearing stories of the 1932 hurricane, but we never thought that something like that could ever happen again. We had never lived in fear of the sea, but now things have changed. We have to go because what happened here could happen again," the twice-Olympic medallist in canoeing Ibrahím Rojas told IPS.

Rojas no longer lives in Santa Cruz del Sur, but he came back to his childhood home to help his mother rebuild her house. "This was supposed to be the place where she was going to spend her old age, and now she can’t wait to move," he said "When we saw what had happened … it was the most painful thing we ever felt." (END/2008).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nadi, Labasa, Navua could be underwater by 2027

By Samisoni Pareti

Recent flooding of the town's shops and office complexes left thousands of dollars in damage, the latest being May 2007 when the entire town area, including its main bus and taxi stations, were under two to three feet of flood waters for more than 12 hour

However, unpleasant it may sound, the jetset town of Nadi will need to be relocated to an elevated piece of land by 2027. And so as Navua and Labasa. That's the word from one of the most esteemed scientists in our part of the ocean, Professor Patrick Nunn of the University of the South Pacific (USP).

"Unthinkable an option relocation is to many of us, there has to be however acceptance that some places cannot continue to be occupied or utilised (as they are today) in the future," said Professor Nunn. "Disruption associated with relocation can be reduced by early (anticipatory) action," he added.

Nadi town, for example, currently sits at sea level. But because of its location coupled with the high discharge from deforested water catchments and the town's own high run-off, Nadi would continuously be threatened by devastating flooding and other storm water surges, Dr Nunn said. Nunn is a professor of Oceanic Geoscience at USP and is the only Pacific islands based member of the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For their ground-breaking work on the science of climate change and the mitigation and adaptation measures required, IPCC was a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. (It shared the award with former United States Vice President Al Gore.)

In a paper presented at last month's Pacific round-table on climate change in Samoa, Professor Nunn said between 1890 and 1990, global temperatures rose by an average of 0.5 degrees C. But he said between 1990 and 2100, temperatures globally are projected to rise between 1.4 C and 6.4 C. The rise in temperature will also see a rise in sea level.

Between the years 1890 to 1990, global sea level, scientists say, rose by an average of 15cm.

Future projections

For 14 years alone, from 1993 to 2007, sea level rose by another 4.3cm.

And the future projections?

Professor Nunn said from 1990 to 2100, the sea level globally is expected to rise between 20cm and 60cm.

By these predictions, scientists say, Nadi River would have been submerged and the town itself would have to be abandoned because it would be under water.

Actually, Nunn said other towns in Fiji and around the Pacific would be similarly threatened.

"If we consider Fiji, then I regard Navua and Labasa as being even more vulnerable," Nunn said in response to an electronic mail query the magazine sent him. "Obviously, there is concern about coastal towns in other countries in our region too. "I am not going to make any predictions about Nadi Airport because, like most valued infrastructure, money will undoubtedly be found to preserve it if it became threatened by sea-level rise. But I do not see how enough money will ever be found to build the necessary engineering structures to keep rising waters out of the central part of Nadi Town. "The same applies to the lower parts of Navua and Labasa. "The only long-term solution is relocation and, the sooner this message is taken seriously by decision-makers, the less painful will be the impact."

The university scientist believes the impact of climate change is already affecting large tourism projects around the Nadi coast. But like Nadi Airport, he suspects there would be enough capital to mitigate against the damage. "Denarau is already having problems in parts but again, like Nadi Airport, there is probably enough money to preserve the investment. "The same is true of Momi and Natadola. I know the Natadola area quite well (my research team is excavating Fiji's earliest human settlement at Bourewa nearby). "While I think the tourist development at Natadola will be preserved for decades, it will need some fairly challenging engineering. "I would expect Sanasana koro to become uninhabitable within the next 20 to 30 years if sea level rises as projected. "The latest report of the IPCC also projects that Fiji will become seasonally wetter in the future and this may well pose problems for the Tuva River drainage behind the Natadola development."

Contingency plan?

If you think the town administrators and the interim government are scrambling to put in place a contingency plan for relocation, think again. Robin Ali, Nadi's town clerk, said the matter of relocation has not featured in any of the town council's meetings.

"For us it's not the way to go really," said Ali.

"With the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, we are looking at other alternatives like dredging and better drainage." Recent flooding of the town's shops and office complexes left thousands of dollars in damage, the latest being May 2007 when the entire town area, including its main bus and taxi stations, were under two to three feet of flood waters for more than 12 hours. Unhelpful has been the Nadi River that runs beside the town's western borders. It tends to burst its banks whenever there is a heavy downfall. Several commercial operators in Nadi have been unable since 2007 to secure flood covers, as insurance companies have refused to underwrite flood related losses. Babu Ganesh, who runs one of the largest souvenir stores in Nadi town, Nad's Handicraft, said most insurance agents are only providing a fixed flood cover of F$10,000. "So if the cost of damage from flooding is estimated at more than $10,000, then it's too bad, you just have to borne that loss on your own," Ganesh told FIJI BUSINESS. He said insurance companies are also insisting that floors of insured buildings ought to be raised two feet above the ground. The successful businessman has heard about Professor Nunn's predictions, saying he read it in the news media. But for relocation to happen, someone will have to foot the bill, pointing to the dilemma people like Ali, the town clerk, have to grapple with. "Yes I can look at relocation, but who is going to pay the cost of moving, of compensation for our buildings and construction of new ones," asked Ganesh. "And there's the question of land, who is going to give us land, and where will this land be."

FIJI BUSINESS knows the Ministry of Local Government has no plans for relocations of vulnerable towns and centres. We were told any such plans would have to be initiated by the Department of Environment whose director was not available to talk to us as he was away on duty travel overseas. Director for Land Resources and Water Management at the Ministry of Agriculture Lakshman Mudaliar would not take our questions either. He asked that they be channelled through the ministry's information office. But in a government media statement that was released in April this year, Mudaliar was reported to have said that dredging of the mouth of Nadi River had been completed. It cost taxpayers $3.3 million. Now, his department is awaiting more money to pursue the second and third phases of dredging. This, Ali said, included clearing the soil and other sediments three kilometres upriver from the town area. For now, dredging seems to be working, Ali said. "We've had some heavy rain in the past few months and the town was not flooded," he said. Nadi's town administrator did say another option they were considering was the diversion of the river away from the town, from somewhere near Saunaka village and take it right over to Wailoaloa Beach.Asked what would be the point of all the costly works if as predicted by scientists, Nadi town would be under water in 20 years time, Ali said: "Well may be we should talk about it, but who is going to pay for all these."