Thursday, November 18, 2010

Watery future for coastal cities - Thinking of buying a condominium in one of the hospitable, thriving capitals of sunny Southeast Asia? You might check out their flood prevention plans beforehand. While the debate over global warming continues, Southeast Asia’s coastal capitals have been facing the reality of extreme weather and its soggy companion, water. In 2007, flooding in Jakarta inundated much of Indonesia’s capital, killing 57 people, displacing 450,000 and causing an estimated $695 million in damage. Tropical storm Ketsana dumped record rainfall on Manila in September, 2009. It submerged 80 percent of the metropolis, killed about 400, and displaced up to 300,000 people. Last month, Bangkok just missed a potentially lethal combination of a swollen Chao Phraya River, high tides in the Gulf of Thailand, and heavy rain. It didn’t rain. “They were just lucky. If there had been heavy rain, the whole city would have been flooded.’’ Even the efficient city-state of Singapore has had its water woes. The shopping area of Orchard Road was flooded in June after unusually heavy rainfall, causing millions of dollars of damage to businesses and some red faces among city Mandarins. If even Singapore can’t cope with abnormal weather, what hope for the rest of the region, especially in the context of potentially rising sea levels?
The recent disasters have provided ample incentive for the region’s coastal cities to make preparations for a watery future with or without global warming. Bangkok plans to spend $533 million to construct four giant drainage tunnels under the city to combat its perennial flooding problems. The tunnels, 5 meters wide and up to 13.5 kilometers long, promise to more than double the city’s current drainage capacity when completed in five years. “This year’s rainy season has made it obvious that we need the tunnels." Since the last devastating floods of 1995, the city has also built a 72-kilometer-long embankment along the Chao Phraya to keep the river waters out.
Singapore has spent $176 million on a 350-meter-long dam to create the first freshwater reservoir in the heart of the city, which opened in November, 2008. The catchment area of 10,000 hectares, one-sixth the size of Singapore, helps to keep seawater out and to control floods. Jakarta in 2008 started dredging the city’s 13 rivers and expanding its canal network with the target of reducing floods by 40 percent by 2011 and 75 percent by 2016. In January, it completed the 23.5-kilometer Eastern Flood Canal. Ho Chi Minh City has started construction of a 33-kilometer-long dike and sluice system to keep sea water from inundating the city. The project will cost an estimated $650 million. Manila, which sits in the pathway of Pacific typhoons and is deemed one of the most vulnerable cities to storm surges, has done remarkably little to prepare for the next deluge despite a flurry of recommendations. “Few, if any, objective experts or knowledgeable observers believe that the Philippine government is capable of handling or mitigating any major disaster that impacts on Manila."
One immediate challenge all these coastal cities share is land subsidence, caused by excessive use of groundwater and overbuilding; in other words, a lack of law enforcement and zoning. Jakarta sank about 1.5 meters over the past 20 years, parts of Manila are sinking at 3 to 17 centimeters per annum and Bangkok, whose subsidence peaked at 10 centimeters a year in the 1990s, is expected to sink between 5 and 30 centimeters by 2050.

**If you say that money makes you miserable,
you’d be lying through your back teeth.
I used to think about money all the time when I never had it
and now that I do, I don’t.**
Irvine Welsh

This morning -

Yesterday -
11/17/10 -


ICELAND - The volcano that threw European aviation into chaos last April and May had sat quietly for 200 years. Yet volcanologists knew weeks before Eyjafjallajökull actually erupted that something big was going on inside the mountain. It had experienced 18 years of intermittent volcanic unrest but things really started to change by late summer 2009, according to a comprehensive new analysis of what happened deep under Eyjafjallajökull.
Scientists from Iceland, Sweden and the Netherlands have spent months pouring over older records and also data from 2009 and 2010 prior to the eruption. They believe they can now tell the full story of how Eyjafjallajökull woke from centuries of slumber to cause the biggest disruption to European air transport since the second World War.
“If you watch a volcano for decades you can tell when it is getting restless". Parts of the dormant volcano began to swell, a sure sign that liquid rock or magma was percolating into chambers under the mountain. Its sides swelled by more than five millimetres per day from early March 2010, finally ballooning out 15 centimetres before the first eruption occurred on March 20th. The scientists were puzzled because Eyjafjallajökull did not then begin to shrink back down as the magma flowed, something most volcanos do. The routine eruption stopped flowing on April 12th but then just two days later the second eruption hit, the one that would cripple European air travel. “The second eruption occurred within the ice-capped caldera [central crater] of the volcano, explosively amplified by magma-ice interaction."
Water from the snow flashed to steam and gas escaped from bubbles in the magma to blast an ash plume high into the atmosphere. Eyjafjallajökull belched out an estimated 250 million cubic metres of ash and pumice up to nine kilometres high. The eruption certainly set no records but the UNUSUAL weather conditions at the time sent the ash first out across Northern Europe and then back across to cover Central Europe, Britain and Ireland. The ash cloud ebbed and flowed during the next month, at times reaching as far south as Italy, Spain and Portugal.
By May 21st it was all over, the eruption ceased and the ash cloud blew away on the wind. Flights returned to normal and for most of us the cloud became a distant memory.
Eyjafjallajökull is currently quiet but not silent. A report on June 23rd noted occasional small ash clouds venting from the mountain that last for some minutes before ceasing. The scientists have also been left to ponder the volcano’s UNUSUAL behaviour in not shrinking quickly during its eruption. They believe this could be because only small amounts of magma built up in chambers within the mountain and were replenished from deeper down. The bigger question from a European perspective is what happens next? “Clear signs of volcanic unrest over years may indicate the reawakening of such volcanoes, whereas immediate short-term eruption precursors may be subtle and difficult to detect."

PHILIPPINES - Bulusan Volcano in Southern Luzon spewed ash yesterday, 10 days after it started to show signs of activity. The agency recorded the explosion at 11:47 p.m. that lasted four and a half minutes. The status of the volcano remains at alert level 1, the lowest of four alert levels characterized by "volcanic unrest." Alert level 4 means "hazardous eruptions" are taking place. Residents in nearby areas have been warned of lahar and ash fall, while civil aviation authorities were told to warn pilots against flying close to the volcano crater. 2,712 families have been affected by the ash fall in 18 barangays in the towns of Casiguran, Juban and Irosin, with 62 families evacuated Sunday.

INDONESIA -Thousands of villagers returned to ash-covered homes along the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano yesterday after the government said some areas well away from the fiery crater appeared out of danger from another eruption. The notoriously unpredictable volcano in the heart of Java island roared back to life on October 26th, killing more than 259 people in a series of eruptions. Merapi was still rumbling and spewing searing ash and debris yesterday but activity has dropped sharply in recent days. After spending nearly three weeks in crowded emergency camps, the villagers headed up Mount Merapi loaded down with mats, blankets and clothes to find almost everything they had was gone. 'Their houses are covered in thick ash; their crops can't be harvested. We need to find some way to help them. Many don't have anything to eat.' (satellite image)

No current tropical cyclones.


Cholera Death Toll Could Reach That of the Haiti Earthquake - "This is something that is going to require heavy duty attention." Haiti's cholera death count jumped over the 1,000 mark. 16,000 are sick. The outbreak was centered in the agricultural area between Port au Prince in the South and Cap-Haitian in the North. A major worry is some cases have appeared in Port au Prince where thousands upon thousands of Haitian are living in tents mired by unsanitary conditions. If cholera gets out of control it could produce a death toll that might rival the number that died during the January Port au Prince earthquake that killed 230,000. That's a scary thought, but with a thousand plus deaths in three weeks, one can see the worry.
Cholera has been found in every Haitian province. Prior to this, disease experts say that Haiti has never had a cholera outbreak. The dynamics of a cholera outbreak are simple, and fit Haiti to a tee. Standing water, zero sanitation facilities, thousands huddled in tents post-earthquake. World health officials are prepared for a long haul in Haiti. Cholera can linger for years, especially if sanitation is not improved and water supplies secured.
Earthquake, Hurricane Tomas, now Cholera - it is a never ending calamity for a country that seems to never get a break.