Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some disasters are man-made

A long, worthy article by journalist Michael Fox in Toward Freedom points out the political dimension to climate change adaptation, using the recent floods in Brazil as an example: …"Global Warming is the excuse for everything," says Rodrigo Moretti, member of the Santa Catarina Environmental Police in Criciúma, one of the regions pounded by rains earlier this month. "They use global warming to explain the river that changed course or flooded, but really the biggest problem here is that our region lacks a strong environmental entity that fights the environmental crimes that are being committed."

Moretti should know. In the first week in January, the Araranguá River flooded its banks, covering the countryside and knocking thousands of people out of their homes. "Our region is a textbook case," Moretti said last week. "The Araranguá River - where the flooding recently occurred - had received funds from the government three or four times to open the canal at the mouth of the river, which naturally closes little by little. If it had been open now during this flood, most of the water that flooded over in to the homes and the fields would have gone out in to the ocean. That’s where the money was supposed to go, and it was diverted."

Moretti says that farmers and local residents make matters worse by planting or constructing their homes with little regard for the 100-foot-wide area of preservation along the riverbanks. Without the "auxiliary forest" or vegetation, topsoil is easily washed in to the river, exacerbating the flood by further clogging the overflowing river. This is the case across the state, including the Itajaí River, which was at the heart of the Santa Catarina tragedy in November.

"It’s going to rain, but if there is an area of protection along the banks of the river, the size of the flood is going to be much less," says Ana Echevenguá an environmental lawyer and coordinator of the the Ecoaçao program of the environmental NGO Ambiental Acqua Bios, based in the Santa Catarina state capital, Florianopolis.

…But the root cause of the natural disasters may go far beyond cutting costs, negligence, lack of oversight, or climate change. "It’s great for the local governments," says Echevenguá. "This tragedy in Santa Catarina is marvelous for the mayors that were in financial troubles. They were in the red, and now money is rolling in and they won’t have to justify their spending. The people who are suffering will just have to deal. Next year there will be another tragedy. Everyone turns into a thief. They take what isn’t theirs, and what is supposed to go for the public good."

Brazil's 2008 Santa Catarina Floods, photo by Ricksz01 (maybe), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

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