Oct 13, 2009

Recurring Drought will make most western cities uninhabitable, turning countryside into a wasteland

Recurring drought is becoming a global phenomenon. While we in India thought that the continuing dry spell and the drought conditions being experienced in almost half of the country was exclusive to India, neighbouring China was reeling under its worst drought in decades. Drought has been affecting a sizeable portion of the United States. What began as an unusually dry year, 2009 has turned out to be one of thr worst dry years in the US living memory.

In Africa, drought affected the Sahel region, a belt of fertile grasslands south of the Sahara desert. Among the affected countries is Kenya, resulting in a state of emergency, needing food supplies for over 10 million people, a third of its population. East Africa in general was faced with a severe drought. In Southern America, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil received scanty rainfalls, with Argentina being worst affected.

The US National Drought Mitigation Centre estimates that drought afflicts a loss of US $ 6-8 billion every year. 2009 being no exception. Already large parts of California, Wisconsin and Texas States are reeling under a severe drought. In Texas, the Wall Street Journal estimates that the prevailing drought had caused a loss of US $ 3.8 billion in crop and livestock by July 2009. Many cities in Texas -- Dallas, Austin, and Houston imposed water usage restrictions. It also resulted in a surge in wildfires across southern America, By February alone, the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise reported 11, 814 wildfires. Even in October, its wasn't unusual to come across wildfires while driving in California. 

In a scene similar to the drought affected regions of India, a USA Today report had quoted a a cattle rancher Jim Selman of Gonzales who had sold 30 of his 300 to 400 breeding cows because of the non-availability of fodder. "It might take me 10 years or more to get back to where I was." Two of California's biggest reservoirs -- Shasta and Oroville -- were reported to be less than half full at the beginning of the year. California is believed to be facing its worst drought in memory. In neighbouring Nevada, the newspaper reported that the USDA had declared almost the entire state as a natural disaster area.

Anyway, this brings me to a related question. Normally I find that most people believe that climate change, which of course is responsible for much of the drought conditions that we witness all over, is only going to affect the developing countries. In fact, this impression comes from the repeated statements of climate experts and politicians who always give an impression as if the developing countries are destined to be doomed if they don't make a sacrifice to protect the Earth. Even in India, I find that activists and civil society leaders only talk of the crisis in agriculture and environment resulting from climate change in the developing world.

It isn't true. What I mean is that it is not only the developing countries that are going to suffer. The developed countries too (although they refrain to say so openly and loudly) will also come under the hammer. I draw your attention to a news report appearing sometime back in The Guardian (Feb 26, 2009) under the title: Droughts 'may lay waste' to parts of US. The report said: The world's pre-eminent climate scientists produced a blunt assessment of the impact of global warming on the US yesterday, warning of droughts that could reduce the American south-west to a wasteland and heatwaves that could make life impossible even in northern cities.

In an update on the latest science on climate change, the US Congress was told that melting snow pack could lead to severe drought from California to Oklahoma. In the midwest, diminishing rains and shrinking rivers were lowering water levels in the Great Lakes, even to the extent where it could affect shipping.

"With severe drought from California to Oklahoma, a broad swath of the south-west is basically robbed of having a sustainable lifestyle," said Christopher Field, of the Carnegie Institution for Science. He went on to warn of scorching temperatures in an array of cities. Sacramento in California, for example, could face heatwaves for up to 100 days a year.

"We are close to a threshold in a very large number of American cities where uncomfortable heatwaves make cities uninhabitable," Field told the Senate's environment and public works committee. US is not the only rich and industrialised country to be adversely affected. All developed countries will get the kick. No wonder, the world is demonstrating an urgency to combat climate change. Let me make it very clear. The developed countries are more worried about what will happen to their landscape. They are very cleverly using developing countries to fight their battle.

You can read the full report at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/26/drought-us-climate-change  Also read this report on how China intends to fight it out: http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE51E0BB20090215

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