Saturday, December 18, 2010

Deltas at the front line

Olivia Boyd in China Dialogue: This year, officials in Jakarta realised they had a serious problem: rain – and more rain. Indonesia’s wet months are famously soggy and rainstorms nothing new for the capital. But this time around the downpours continued long after they were meant to have passed. “We have noticed there is no more dry season,” said Fauzi Bowo, the governor of Jakarta. “We use the dry season to repair and prepare our infrastructure for the rainy season. Now we have no chance. It rains every day.”

Jakarta, at the mouth of the Ciliwung River, is just one of many major global cities situated in low-lying, coastal deltas and already grappling with the effects of climate change. Deltas are areas of land formed from sediment where a river flows into the sea or another body of water. They are home to more than half the world’s population and many of its most valuable assets.

…It was in this context that Bowo, speaking at an international conference on the impacts of climate change on deltas earlier this year, made his remarks. The gathering in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam brought together scientists and policymakers from delta regions across the world, from Vietnam to northern Italy, to share knowledge and ideas on adaptation and mitigation. It also acted as a launch pad for the Delta Alliance, a new network of cities and provinces working towards solutions to their common climate-related problems.

And the problems are significant. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) singled out deltas as some of the most vulnerable systems in the world. As Martin Parry, climate scientist at London’s Imperial College and former co-chair of IPCC working group II, said in Rotterdam: “Deltas already have high vulnerability – high flood risk, weather extremes. With climate change, these get worse.”…

Pinisi ships dock at the Sunda Kelapa Harbor, Jakarta. Shot by Danumurthi Mahendra from Indonesia, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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