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Climate change and natural disaster in Southeast Asia

Updated On: May 22, 2007

Climate change is "the most severe problem that we are facing today—more serious even than the threat of terrorism," in words of U.K. Chief Scientific Advisor David King.

Scientists are still arguing over whether the increased frequency in extreme weather patterns is a direct result of global warming. Yet what is clear is the potential damage wrecked by these extreme weather events, whether it be heat waves, droughts, floods or severe storms.  And of late, we have seen much of that in the region.  Observers are inclined to believe that what has been happening recently in some parts of the Southeast Asia is an indication of the impacts of climate change.

Most recently in Indonesia, high waves have struck coastlines across the country, devastating houses, expelling tourists from beaches, preventing fishermen from going to the sea, and causing damage to property and disruptions to human activities . In Meulaboh, Aceh province (in which lives were still struggling to get to normal after the 2004 tsunami), thousands of houses in 10 villages were swept by massive waves, forcing people to flee their houses, Meanwhile, in Bantul regency, Yogyakarta the waves also damaged hundreds of houses and prevented fishermen from fishing. High waves also hit BaliWest Sumatra, Pelabuhan Ratu in West JavaCentral Java, and Papua. Victims are now counting their losses.

Being an archipelagic country, Indonesia is very vulnerable to climate change. Indonesia has so many islands it has not been able to count them all and is having a hard time finding names for them.

Officially there are about 17,000 islands, but that number may drop as one minister fears hundreds of islands might vanish because of rising sea levels from global warming. Indonesia's environment minister Rachmat Witoelar in January said the country could lose about 2,000 islands by 2030 if sea levels continued to rise.

Another report said that manifestations of climate change in Indonesia like long and unpredictable droughts have affected old plants in Bogor`s Botanical Garden. Hundreds of old and endangered trees were toppled by whirlwinds last year.Meanwhile in Bangkok, thousands of workers fled swaying high-rise office buildings on Wednesday (16 May) last week.  Fortunately there were no injuries or major damage reported after an earthquake struck about 465 miles north in western Laos. The earthquake, centered in a remote region of Laos, was measured at magnitude 6.1 by the U.S. Geological Survey and Thailand's Meteorological Department. According to Lao Foreign Ministry spokesman, it was not felt in Vientiane and there were no initial reports of casualties. But the quake also felt not only in Bangkokbut also Chiang Mai, a popular Thai tourist destination about 160 miles southwest of the epicenter.  In other parts of Thailand, particularly Central and Northern Thailand, heavy rainfalls and flash floods were reported, resulting in serious damages to properties and crops. In preparation for more heavy floods to come, a flood and landslide early warning system had been set up in various districts along the Mae Ping river to better cope with the more of the cyclones and flash floods expected.

Sources:

Indonesia counts its islands before it`s too late (Antara, 17 May 2007)

High waves force hundreds to flee Indonesia coastline (Channel News Asia, 18 May 2007)

Climate change affecting Bogor botanical garden collections (Antara, 19 May 2007)

Victims counting losses as authority warns further waves (Jakarta Post, 21 May 2007)

Bengal Cyclone to unleash heavy rains around country: Meteorological (The Nation, 14 May 2007)

Mudflows swamp nine Phrae willages (Bangkok Post, 15 May 2007)