Saturday, November 05, 2011

Guyana's coastal population faces threat of sea level rise

From: Alertnet  ; By Johann Earle

A woman walks on the beach in Georgetown, Guyana in the early morning of November 26, 2010. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

MAHAICONY, Guyana (AlertNet) – Rising sea levels caused by climate change are threatening the coast of Guyana, where most of the country’s population and almost all of its economic activity are located.

Despite the presence of defensive walls, Guyana ’s coast is highly vulnerable to flooding linked to sea level rise. With the coastal population continually expanding, thousands of new homes are built on low-lying land every year.

“Here in Guyana the difficulty of planning is compounded because we are below sea level on the coast,” said Guyana ’s Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali.

“The threat of rising seas poses a difficulty, especially since a major segment of the population lives in (coastal) urban areas,” he said.

Ninety percent of this South American nation’s population of 755,000 now live within 100 km (60 miles) of the coast. More than 400,000 live in what researchers refer to as the lower elevation coastal zone, including about 240,000 residents of the capital, Georgetown .

From 2006 to 2010, over 18,000 new plots of land were allocated for housing construction in Guyana, mainly on the coast, according to the government.


The government and other experts are now exploring ways in which Guyanese will have to adapt to climate change if they are to continue living in coastal areas. Those may include building new homes on raised pilings, at least three feet above the ground, and improving drainage systems.

A particular problem is the urbanisation of historic flood zones, which makes the coastline and its inhabitants increasingly vulnerable to flooding and erosion, fresh water shortages and loss of coastal ecosystems.

In the once rural but now rapidly urbanising community of Mahaicony, 55 km (35 miles) southeast of Georgetown, farmers say they are losing crops and animals to increasing severe flooding.

“During the last flood (in December 2010 and January 2011) we lost 10 acres of rice, and the rice that was left was below the (normal) yield,” said Vidya Singh, who farms rice, cash crops and livestock.

Singh said many of the residents of the area would like to move but they have no means of doing so. 

“Whenever the rainy season comes we have to prepare for this. The farmers may move for a while but they do not have anything else to do so they go back,” she said.  

Kushpaul Sharma, another farmer who also raises fish, said the water “was about a foot high on my land” during the same floods, which killed two of his cows and caused extensive damage to his fish ponds.

“I lost about one million hassars,” said Sharma, referring to a fish commonly eaten in Guyana .

E. Lance Carberry, a member of the Guyanese parliament’s natural resources committee, said that those planning coastal settlements must consider the effects of rising seas.

“We obviously have to look very carefully at the question of human settlements and where they are located and at the risk of flooding and inundation,” he said.

On particular problem, he said, is the rising water table beneath coastal land. As sea level increases, “it is going to become more and more difficult to manage drainage and irrigation,” Carberry said.

He does not advocate banning construction in at-risk areas, but suggests there should be more investment in and careful management of drainage systems if construction is to continue in flood-prone areas.


The threat of sea level rise has big implications for coastal Guyana ’s drinking water supply, according to Ali, the housing and water minister. The ministry has embarked on building a comprehensive water resources management system that it hopes will ensure the availability of water to residents.

Rather than relying on a traditional, fragmented approach to water management, which has led to poor services and unsustainable water use, the new system is based on an ecosystem approach, in which water is seen as both a natural resource and an economic good.

It aims, through better regulation of water use, to ensure enough water is available for people, agriculture, industry and natural ecosystems. The strategy is one being adopted by a variety of Caribbean states through the Global Water Partnership, a network of organisations that work on water security.

In Georgetown, the capital, a growing number of new buildings are now being constructed on raised pilings to mitigate the threat of flooding.

The move follows a recommendation by the Central Housing and Planning Authority – following severe flooding in 2005 – that people build their houses at least three feet above ground.

Rawle Edinboro, the chief development planner at the authority, acknowledged that the recommendation was not legally enforceable, and that building on pilings was too expensive for some people.

The authority has not monitored compliance with the recommendation for raised buildings, Edinboro said, but he is confident residents are becoming more sensitive to the climate pressures and growing flooding risk.

Charles Sohan, an engineer affiliated to the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers, said while the recommendation for raised buildings is a good one, it must go hand in hand with improved drainage in the housing communities to provide faster outlets for the water.

“There must be a way for the water to be drained off the land. This is because the water will run from the raised foundations into the homes that are not raised,” he said.

Edinboro said that the Guyana National Bureau of Standards is drafting a new building code, but that it has not yet been finalized and only a few designers and architects are using it.

“The planners of new housing settlements ought to take account of what is happening on the coast,” he said.

Johann Earle is a Georgetown-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change issues.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sea-level rise may swamp Washington D.C

From USAToday (By Dan Vergano)

Washington D.C. rose from swampy river banks and thanks to Global Warming, the good ol' days may be set to return. Sea-level rise may swamp some Washington D.C. monuments by 2150, a study suggests, unless levees gird the nation's capital.

Architect of the Capitol

"A (sea) level rise is an inevitable future for Washington, DC," says the Risk Analysis journal led by civil engineer Bilal Ayyub of the University of Maryland, adding, "that would impact the city even with a relatively small rise."

So, the study analyzes the effects of sea level rise expected under various scenarios used in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, from 2043 to 2150 for the nation's capital. Then the study overlaid the resultant sea-level rise on depth maps of the region, home to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Monument, White House and U.S. Capitol, among other attractions.

Depending on the amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the atmosphere will warm enough to trigger anywhere from a four-inch sea level rise by 2043, on the low end, to more than 16 feet by 2150, on the high end.

"Even using a modest (sea-level rise) of 0.1 m (4 inches), the analysis of the data layers shows a relatively negative impact on the city. A total of 103 properties will be flooded," at a cost of $2.1 billion, says the study. "Above these levels, the numbers become staggering," it says next.

At the high end of sea level rise, 73 monuments and museums along the National Mall would be affected by 2150, along with hundreds of buildings, and land where 103,000 people now live, says the study, if nothing is done. The Lincoln Monument is on its own island in the maps at this point.

Concludes the study:

Decisions must be made in the near future by lawmakers or city planners on how to reduce the impact of and adapt to SLR (sea-level rise). A planned retreat is not an option when dealing with SLR in such an important area. City planners have to decide whether to build countermeasures to keep the city from flooding or to accommodate the SLR either by modifying land use regulations or by reducing current financial investments in the affected area. A "do- nothing" approach would directly lead to irrevocable losses. A short-term solution, like creating a small flood barrier, may give the city time to examine this challenge and produce cost-effective solutions. Cost-effective methods to deal with SLR should be developed, and long-term solutions that extend well into this millennium are necessary.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Odisha speaks out on food security


Food security is threatened in parts of Orissa (Odisha) where climate change has been a phenomenon. Rise in temperature and sea level has made agriculture vulnerable as seawater is more often gushing into the land filling their paddy fields with saline water. Because agriculture is almost regularly hit by tidal waves and floods, food security of these people has been threatened as they have no other option to earn a livelihood and feed the family.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Calcutta at ‘extreme risk’

From: The Telegraph India


New Delhi, Oct. 26: Calcutta is among six cities worldwide at “extreme risk” of facing natural hazards of climate change, including the impacts of sea level rise, but with a poor capacity to respond, says a report released today.

The report on climate change vulnerability from Maplecroft, a private UK-based risk analysis company, also predicts that Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi are among 10 cities across the world that face a “high risk” of the impacts of climate change.

The report is based on an analysis of nations’ and cities’ vulnerability as well as capacity to adapt and respond to the threats of climate change, linked to a gradual rise in global temperatures caused by increasing emission of greenhouse gases.

The analysis dubs Dhaka the most vulnerable city with a risk score of 1.06 on a scale where zero represents maximum risk and 10 least risk. Chittagong follows with a score of 1.26 while Calcutta scores 2.16. In contrast, New York is at 6.4 and London 8.0.

“We analysed three key elements in ranking the cities — the threats of natural hazards, sensitivity of their populations and the capacity of local governments to respond,” said Charlie Beldon, an atmospheric physicist and environmental analyst with Maplecroft.

The analysis suggests that some megacities of Asia have the highest rates of population growth along with extreme vulnerability to climate change. “Urbanisation is an enhancer of risk,” Beldon told The Telegraph over the phone.

The report said Calcutta’s population was expected to rise to 18.7 million by 2020 and the city is “highly exposed to sea level rise and coastal flooding”. The predicted rise in population will place more people within these vulnerable areas, it said.

India has been classified as a nation at “extreme risk” with a risk score of 28, while the other leading emerging economies have higher scores in the medium risk range — South Africa (48), China (98) and Brazil (116). The lower the score, the higher the risk.

Coastal areas of Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh and the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are among the most vulnerable zones within India, according to the sub-national analysis. The coastal areas are exposed to tropical cyclones, storm surges and localised storms, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are vulnerable because of their dense population and heavy reliance on agriculture.

Indian scientists who have independently analysed sea level data from different ports believe there is evidence for a 1.3mm per year rise in the average sea level along the Indian coastline, although the rise may vary with location.

A study by M.R. Ramesh Kumar, A.S. Unnikrishnan and M. Manimurali from the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, four years ago had indicated a net sea level rise of 5.7mm per year over 55 years at Diamond Harbour. In contrast, the sea level rise in Mumbai was 1.2mm per year over a 113-year period.

According to the Maplecroft analysis, Haiti tops the list of nations and territories most at risk, while Iceland is the least at risk. Among countries at extreme risk, Bangladesh with a population of more than 140 million is ranked number 2. India is ranked 28.

Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Congo are among 20 nations most vulnerable to climate change. It said Europe in general had low sensitivity and a good capacity to adapt to the impact of extreme climate events, but low-lying coastal areas of Belgium, The Netherlands and the UK were likely to be exposed to the risks of sea level rise.

Canada and the US are classified as low risk nations with scores of 173 and 160. But, the report cautioned, the destruction and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina “revealed how even the most economically strong countries can at times find themselves at extreme vulnerability to climatic events”.