Friday, August 17, 2007

Natural disasters take their toll on planet Earth

The death toll in the massive earthquake which hit Peru Wednesday has risen to 447. The official figure is likely to rise as emergency teams sift through the devastated areas hit by the tremors. The main quake was upgraded to 8.0 late yesterday by the USGS and several aftershocks measuring as high as 6.0 have hampered rescue efforts [].

Meanwhile residents and authorities in Cuba and other Caribbean island are braced for another possible natural disaster as a category 3 Hurricane heads across the Atlantic. Hurricane Dean, packing winds of 267 kph and gusts of up to 204 kph, is the first major hurricane of the season. On the other side of the globe Taiwan experiencing the equivalent of a category 2 hurricane as Typhoon Sepat sweeps across the island. The country has already been battered by previous storms in the past few weeks. Winds in excess of 180 kph have already disrupted flights and forced residents to leave their homes [CNN].

Emergency aid is beginning to arrive in North Korea after an unprecedented request from Pyongyang following devastating floods killed 221 and left thousands homeless [BBC]. Asia has been particularly badly hit by floods over last few months. China, India and Bangladesh have been hit the hardest with hundreds dead and millions of people displaced. In China, 141 people were killed last moth by lightning strikes alone [BBC].
More than 700 people have died in floods in central China, while millions of others have been hit by drought in the past few weeks. Vietnam saw storms kill at least 43 this month [BBC] while in India figures range from 500 to 3000 dead [BBC]. It is estimated that nearly 30 million were affected.
Britain also saw flooding devastate parts of England. Though the death toll was low, there is dichotomy of opinion as to whether these freak weather events are a symptom of global climate change. Some have no doubt that climate change is occurring. China's top meteorological official has blamed global warming for the extreme seasonal weather. CMA chief Zheng Guoguang said earlier this month, "Extreme weather has incurred frequent natural disasters such as rainstorms, floods and droughts across the country this year." While some suffered extreme wet weather others have suffered extreme heat. Droughts and soaring temperatures have swept across parts of Europe and particularly the US where much of the country suffered temperatures well above 30 Celsius [CNN]. In both continents brush fires increased with Europe losing over 3000 square kilometers of forest land [BBC]. The apparent effect on the climate by human activity has spawned many protests. Last month saw millions take part in Live Earth. The event was intended to bring people together and make a pledge to be more environmentally friendly. However due to the large carbon footprint the event itself made, along with the large carbon footprints of those performing, the event was widely criticized. Similar criticism has also been lodged against those protesting at Heathrow and other UK airports. The demonstrators are seeking to bring attention to the effects of air travel on the planet [BBC], however many have pointed out that they are relying on globalization and have themselves made a significant carbon footprint themselves. Some will have undoubtedly used a car or a carbon emitting form of transport. The tents in use will have traveled half way around the planet, and so too will much of the food they will eat.
Whether global warming is real or not, the extreme weather is certainly real enough. And if the trends continue, mankind will have to adapt and find solutions to the increase in storms, floods and droughts.

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