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Mapping the world’s climate change in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

(Part I)

Today’s headlines and recent events reflect the seriousness of climate change. Bush fires, droughts, and flooding are causing deaths among vulnerable populations, destroying livelihoods, and driving people from their homes. Observations by naturalists of animal and plant behavior suggest that ecosystems are now being forced to adjust.

Warning signs

New records and observations around the world are consistent with scientists’ expectations of climate change. ASIAN SUMMER MONSOON – heavy rain and flooding in parts of northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh in 2004 left 1,800 dead and millions stranded. THAILAND FLOODS – severe flooding have damaged the 600-year-old ruins of Sukhothai, the country’s first capital, including the ruins of Ayuthaya, which served as its capital from the 14th to the 18th centuries. FIRES IN INDONESIA – the failure of the monsoon rains in 1998, contributed to one of the worst fire outbreaks ever recorded in Indonesia. Smoke traveled for thousands of miles, affecting millions of people.

INDIAN HEAT WAVE –more than 1,500 fatalities in India and Pakistan in 2003 were caused by temperatures over 500 centigrade. HIMALAYAN AND OTHER ASIAN GLACIERS – almost all glaciers surveyed are in retreat. Since 2000, the Meren glacier had disappeared, while the Carstenz and Northwall Firn glaciers have lost 20 percent of their area.

The bottom of the world in Australia and New Zealand

CORAL BLEACHING. In 1998, extreme heat caused the coral reefs of the Australian Great Barrier Reef to experience the most severe bleaching ever recorded. DROUGHT IN AUSTRALIA – abnormally low or absent rainfall between 2002 and 2005 caused bush fires and severe water shortages. Thus, farmers were forced to sell all their livestock, while urban residents considered recycling waste water. EL NIÑO IN AUSTRALIA – El Niño is triggered when warm water in Pacific extends east. During this time, rainfall follows the warm water leading to drought in Australia and disruption of climate patterns around the world. FLOODS IN NEW ZEALAND – in February 2004, severe floods caused damage to property and agricultural land.

EVACUATED AND ABANDONED ISLANDS – the 2,000 inhabitants of the Carteret Islands of Papua, New Guinea have been forced to move to an adjoining island, after their fruit trees were killed by increasingly saline water supply, and their homes were washed away by high tides and storms. Meantime, rising seas forced the 100 inhabitants of Tegua, Vanuatu, to abandon their island in 2005. DISAPPEARING AND THREATENED ISLANDS – two uninhabited Kiribati islands disappeared beneath the sea in 1999. The remaining 33 islands, home to 103,000 people are likely to suffer the same fate. On the same note, the leaders of Tuvalu, home to 9,000 people, have started making plans for the eventual evacuation of their island, which is only three meters above sea level. 


DROUGHT IN THE HORN OF AFRICA – in 2006, more than 17 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, faced serious food shortage due to consecutive years of failed rains. HEAVY RAIN IN ETHIOPIA – the Gash River reached its highest level in 70 years and displaced over 70,000 families in 2003.   SNOW-CAPPED PEAKS SHRINK IN AFRICA – the famous snow-capped peaks on Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro are shrinking so rapidly that they may vanish by 2025. SEA-LEVEL RISE IN SOUTH AFRICA – the oldest human footprints estimated to have been made 117,000 years ago, found near Langebaan Lagoon in the national park, are at a risk of inundation because of sea-level rise.

North and South America

TROPICAL ANDES – there has been a widespread retreat of mountain glacier during the 20th century, the Quelccaya Glacier in Peru is retreating 10 times more rapidly than it did in the ‘70s and ‘80s by up to 30 meters a year. HEAVY RAINS IN BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA – tens of thousands of people were left homeless and over 160 killed in 2004 by mudslides in Brazil. While in Argentina, heavy rains in 2003 led to flooding and the evacuation of over 150,000 people.

SOUTH ATLANTIC HURRICANES – the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season broke records for the frequency of storms, and for the number of category 5 hurricanes. The first ever observed in the South Atlantic hit Brazil in 2004. DISRUPTED ECOSYSTEM IN CENTRAL AMERICA – the mountain forests of Central America are home to many endemic mammals, amphibians, and birds, including 17,000 plant species. The region is also a vital corridor for many migrant bird species. Climate change, especially the reduction in rainfall, may threaten this rich and unique habitat.


EUROPEAN HEAT WAVE – in 2003, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK, experienced a major HEAT WAVE in late July and early August, which resulted in about 35,000 deaths. SPANISH DROUGHT – in 2005, Spain experienced the driest winter and early spring since record began in 1947.

EUROPEAN ALPS – the average loss of thickness of glacier in 2003 was nearly twice that of the previous record year of 1998. SIBERIAN MELT – average temperatures in Western Siberia have risen by 3 degrees centigrade in the last 40 years. Since the turn of the century, there has been visible melting of the permafrost, with new lakes forming across the landscape.

FLOODING IN CZECH REPUBLIC – in 2002 flooding across Europe damaged concert halls, theaters, museums, and libraries. An estimated half a million books, as well as archival documents were damaged. Climate change may bring more flooding and further losses.

Anticipating the future

This mapping makes it abundantly clear that people, economies, and ecosystems are at serious risk from current patterns of climate variability. Across large parts of Africa, the timing and abundance of rains determines whether crops will support households, or whether hungry people will need to search for alternative sources of food and income. As we learned from the 2003 heat wave in Europe, even the most advanced industrialized countries face serious risks.

According to Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to Her Majesty’s Government, “Climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism.”

(Reference: The Atlas of Climate Change by Kirstin Dow and Thomas Downing)

(For feedback, email to [email protected])

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