Catastrophes and phase displacement
text: Olga Borissova , exclusively for Gazeta.kz
An incredible, incessant series of disasters, shaking the entire world, could not leave readers indifferent towards problems related with the changing climate.
Natural disasters and caprices of the weather are links of the same chain. Such are cruel "surprises" of the late 2004 and the early 2005.
Our planet due to its "interior" shocks has slightly changed its form, which was quite obvious on photos made out of the space, but, alas, also the climatic phases of the Earth have been "displaced"…
Containers with bread are being dropped to winter cattle breeding quarters in Kazakhstan off helicopters of the Ministry of Emergencies and the army, because one cannot pass the snow covered roads in a car or on a horse. And child delivering mothers are being transported to maternity hospitals on… armoured troop-carriers and helicopters!
Mass media in our country and abroad started to pay a lot of attention to natural cataclysms, which is undoubtedly due to the recent tragedy in the Indian Ocean, deaths of nearly 300 thousand people, and the complete destruction of coastal infrastructures in many countries of this region.
From 18 to 22 January, 2005, the World Conference on Disaster Reduction was carried out in Kobe, Japan, under the UN auspices.
The World Conference on Disaster Reduction was held in the city, which was destroyed by an earthquake 10 years ago. But after the tsunami in December that struck 11 countries in the basin of the Indian Ocean the conference agenda had to be corrected: it became clear that even the most developed countries cannot be safe alone. That is why a special session was dedicated to creation of an early tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. The main result of its work was a decision not to be limited to one Ocean only.
4 thousand representatives from 150 countries, regional and international organisations participated in the forum.
The emperor of Japan Akihito and the empress Michiko participated in the conference opening ceremony, the UN secretary general Kofi Annan sent a telegram to the forum, in which he observed that an unprecedented rescue operation on the global scale had been following the unprecedented tsunami.
However, only rescue works are not enough after the disasters, it is necessary to share the experience and to draw lessons to avoid other tragedies in the future.
At this moment only the USA, Russia, and Japan possess early warning systems covering the entire Pacific region, where geologic activity periodically generates tsunamis. All these systems are alike - they use advance registration of quakes by seismographs. Their basic principle is the following: if the speed of tsunami is 800 km per hour, the seismic waves generated by earthquakes fixed by seismic stations are much faster - up to 10 thousand km per hour. Therefore authorities receive signals about the coming threats several hours in advance, which is quite enough for the warning and evacuation of people.
As we said representatives of 150 world countries participated in the forum. The conference work concentrated on meetings dedicated to main issues related with the state, institutional, and political management of risks; their identification, estimation, and monitoring; knowledge, innovation, and education to create security culture; reduction of main risk factors; preparations for reacting efficiently to the natural disasters.
A plan of action was composed, which all countries must implement in the period from 2005 to 2015.
The UN stated at the conference that it was ready to start working on the early tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean immediately. According to the UN representatives, the system could be commissioned in a year or two. Ministers from the countries struck by the tsunami, who gathered in Kobe and representatives of the donor countries generally approved the beginning of works on the early warning system creation.
It is suggested that the system will become a part of the worldwide network of natural disaster warning systems.
BBC News reports that the initial phase of its preparation will be managed by the UNESCO, which is ready to start work immediately.
According to specialists the creation of the basic system can be completed in one year and a half. Millions of dollars have already been offered by Japan, European Union, and other countries.
According to preliminary information the early warning system in the Indian Ocean will be based on a network of hi-tech buoys attached to the bottom by ropes. The buoys in their turn will be connected to regional communication centres. The USA, Germany, and Australia have already offered their technologies.
While the system has not been built, Japan undertook to send warnings from its own ocean survey centres.
The biggest problems can appear at the local level, when the warnings will be sent to distant coastal areas, UN representatives believe.
This system already proved its efficiency right at the conference. Quakes reaching 6.3 to 6.8 on the Richter scale occurred by the coasts of Japan. They caused a half metre high oceanic wave - its blows were received by Miyake isles, located South of Tokyo, and by Honshu coasts. But the disaster did not cause any damages this time, because the authorities had managed to evacuate the population in the right time.
But this is Japan, where the population apart from the early warning system, is protected by special dams and breakwaters, as well as by forest plantations, which resist tsunamis quite efficiently (in Vietnam, for example, such forests were burnt during the war by the US napalm, while in a number of the Indian Ocean countries they were cut by locals to build houses and hotels).
But the main difference between the Japanese and other neighbours is their constant readiness for the disasters. Everybody, from child to adult, knows what to do when the signal of alarm comes. The trouble of the tsunami hit countries is that they did not even have such signals.
That is why, as it appears now, meteorologists from Thailand and Sri Lanka, who received a warning from a US centre at Hawaii, did not know what to do: whether they had to call the radio, or they had to pressurise authorities. A particularity of the Indian Ocean is that the seismic activity centres are much closer to the densely populated areas - there was not enough time for warning and evacuation.
Seen this, the conference participants in Kobe were saying that the system similar to the Pacific one, is needed urgently not only in the Indian Ocean, but also in the Atlantic Ocean - in the Caribbean Sea in particular.
In these regions in the last century or two there were not less than 80 tsunamis. When these regions obtain their own warning systems, the UN plans to unite them in the global network, from where information would be delivered to special prognostication centres via satellites. Moreover, the system will have to notify the authorities and the population not only about an approaching tsunami, but also react to other natural cataclysms (earthquakes, floods, droughts, and hurricanes). China, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the USA have already stated that they are ready to participate in its creation.
According to specialists, all this can be created in the Indian Ocean by 2007: at the conference in Kobe its approximate price was defined as 30 million dollars. Without waiting for the global system to be commissioned the Japanese offer to utilise a new satellite MTSAT-1 that had to be launched in late February to notify about disasters in the Indian Ocean.
It will transmit the information to the US tsunami information centre, which will in turn pass it to the Indian Ocean countries.
It was observed that the early warning system in the Indian Ocean must become a model for other world regions, for example, for the Mediterranean and Caribbean basins. Ideally it could become a basis for a global natural disaster warning system: from floods to volcano eruptions. The US representatives at the conference on the natural disaster risk reduction in Japan demanded to exclude any mentioning about global climatic changes as a reason for natural disasters from the document. According to an American representative, his proposition to introduce the amendment had to give an opportunity to concentrate on practical aspects of the reduction of the natural disaster risks for the planet population. Instead of that a discussion was spurred between supporters of different opinions about reasons for the climatic changes and about the Kyoto protocol on reduction of hothouse gases coming into effect.
Guardian newspaper says that it even caused a suspension of a unitary plan of actions to prevent consequences in the case of such cataclysms as the Indian Ocean tsunami. Asutralia and Canada joined the US demands.
It should be noted that almost at the same moment the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was held almost at the same moment, at which apart from financial and economic problems issues related with counteraction to global warming were reviewed.
Thus, the man-caused "global warming", the scientific explanation of which remains on the level of hypothesis, is now related with natural disasters directly.
The "hot heads" could apparently be cooled by abrupt frosts that hit North America in late January bringing along strong snowfalls, a decrease of temperature to 40 below zero degrees centigrade, and a blockage of normal life activities on the US territory.
During the same period the anomaly "heat" that lasted two weeks in East Europe and Russia was replaced by stable frosts and anomaly snowfalls. The frosts were so powerful that the snowfalls were observed not only in Europe, but also in other Mediterranean and North African countries.
The snow attacks for more than one month the Far East of Russia, Sakhalin, Kamchatka, the Kuriles, and Japan. The snowfalls caused massive avalanches in Eurasian mountains, blocking infrastructures, and causing human deaths.
The UNESCO Secretary-General Koitiro Matsuura announced a new initiative on reduction of human deaths and financial damage caused by floods. The new project will be worked out in the Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management (CHARM), located in Tsukuba, Japan.
"This initiative will unite scientific, operational, and educational aspects of flood management and give out social and informational solutions to the problem of flood public warning," - K. Matsuura stated at a special session of the UN world conference on prevention of water disasters in Kobe, Japan.
The reason for this international initiative was a growth of natural disasters related with water, which cause a growing number of human victims and destructions.
If in 1992 the number of water related natural disasters were around 50, now there are 150 of them per annum. They take 25,000 human lives and damage 500 million other inhabitants of the planet. The annual damage done to the world economy is 60 billion USD per annum (in 1950 it was 10 billion). These figures don't take into account the damage done to cultural monuments and natural resources.
At the same time specialists relate natural disasters with the fast demographic growth, the growing urbanisation, and a completely growing cost of material goods. The changing climate and the overheating of the planet aggravate this situation and according to estimates of the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme cause a bigger number of water related disasters in the future.
On the other hand, the floods are natural phenomena, promoting biological diversity and supporting various eco-systems and human activities.
The international initiative on the reduction of floods will develop a complex approach to the management of these disasters in order to attain a maximum long term effect of reduction of human deaths and material damage. Special attention is paid to scientific studies, training of personnel, creation of information networks, Development of efficient management. Technical aid will be provided for this.
A World Water Forum took place in Kyoto, Japan, recently. 10 thousand delegates from 160 countries participated in it. Some scientists warn that the humanity can encounter even bigger dangers if measures to stabilise the climate and improve the environment are not taken, while others don't see any sufficient proof that the situation becomes worse.
There are different point of view concerning the forum and its tasks.
Here is, for instance, what Alan Moghissi, president of the Institute for Regulatory Science from Alexandria, Virginia says.
Alan Moghissi: the main subject is the global climate change. There are disputes on the nature of this change and on its reasons, one of which could be the global warming. But we are quite far from establishing real reasons. If it is true that the global warming has become the reason for the climate change, then scientists agree that the water level in the oceans will rise, which will potentially cause floods. The scientific circles agree that the global warming can cause a rise of the water level and floods. The problem is that there are honest persons, who really care about the humanity destinies, among those who speak about the climate change and there are people, who intentionally spread fear for the sake of certain political and financial benefits. Here is an example: the Kyoto protocol has not brought about any results because several countries that could provide funds to combat the environmental pollution did not participate in the Kyoto forum. And these are the states that the generate the biggest quantities of the carbonic acid gas: India and China. So what - the Kyoto protocol is an international document that is below any critique?
Undoubtedly, even Africa was not an exception with reference to the climatic changes on the Earth, apart from the USA, Europe, and Asia, as well as Russian territories, specifically - the tundra, Kamchatka, Siberia. Giant territories of Kazakhstan were also subject to massive snowfalls that sometimes were continuing for 50 hours! As a result there was no opportunity to reach many inhabited areas without the aid of snow clearing technique, which threatened not only the safe traffic, but also the life support system.
Thus, shops in some villages were out of foods, bread etc. And the snow kept falling on and on.
The snowfalls were accompanies by a real avalanche of problems: in the ancient Taraz, for example, the roads were not cleared in due time, an emergency was announced in Zhualyn district where it was impossible to get to the inhabited areas because of man high snow banks. One man was killed by the cold on his way .
The road adventures during the snowfalls included jams: a big truck was stuck across the road having slid into a furrow on the side of the road.
The motorway Almaty - Shymkent became a location of a "subbotnik" for two days, when cars were dug out by shovels and then drawn out of snow by tows, Road policemen had to work especially hard. A part of passenger buses were turned 180 degrees, that is they had to go back! In total, almost 100 inhabited areas and 200 winter quarters were "cut" from the "Big Land", remaining without the transport communication.
The snow "siege" became a reason for a raise in prices for taxi and bread (almost like in the sieged Leningrad). What a coincidence - previously Taraz was called Dzhambul, - a great Kazakh poet who once addressed a poem to Leningrad people dying of cold and hunger: "Leningradians, my children!"…
Finally, on 02.02.2005 it was decided to announce an emergency in Taraz. The damage done by the disaster has not been calculated yet, and, according to Stanislav Makarov, head of the regional emergency department, the local budget could not cover all costs related with the consequences of what had happened without a government aid.
So far the situation remains grave in Sarysou and Zhualyn districts: only a helicopter could help inhabitants of the winter cattle-breeding quarters dropping containers with medicines and foods off the air, in total about a half ton for people and two tons of forages for the cattle.
The aviation also helped to take care of ill people, taking them aboard and providing urgent transportation to medical institutions. Armoured technique also played an important role in such a critical moment. Rescue teams of the Ministry of Emergencies showed all their capacities. Doubtlessly, many of pilots and rescuers will be awarded, because courage and heroism can be displayed even in peaceful days!
However not everybody managed to save their worn out roofs of the wet heavy snow. Not everybody cared to take the snow mass off the roofs by shovels. People, obviously did not expect that their roofs will fall.
Several hospitals, 185 houses and many other buildings found themselves buried under the snow. Human indifference, low quality of old roofs and the simple lack of caution - these are the reasons why the snow was not taken off the roofs of houses, schools, hospitals, and cattle sheds that could not resist the snow mass.
However, the warm is coming. The same snow mass, melting, will seek its ways to rivers and lakes raising the water level. Around 20 houses in the same Taraz were flooded!
It is a climatic transformation: the cold, the disastrous level of snow, and as a consequence potential river floods that will destroy worn out bridges, as well as flooding water reservoirs endangering humans, Obviously, something can be planned even today to reduce possible costs.
A human being possesses intellect. Many things can be avoided. By spring the aviation and the Ministry of Emergencies should be in the state of alert. But the main thing is that people themselves are ready for climatic surprises.
Snow fell on rivers in the same catastrophic quantities, which will surely influence the water level. Already now everything necessary should be done to avoid big damages to apparently forthcoming floods on the same Syr Darya.
Rice fields can be flooded, influencing the future harvest and subsequently prices for rice and the general situation in the region, the living standard of each peasant. Difficulties related with the water problem are being discussed with Uzbekistan now. Specialists that already by 20 February the water level in the Shardara reservoir will approach critical point that can be followed by a disaster.
And we also often switch on heaters more often than in the same period of the last year. The country fights the cold. However, here as well the "global warming - cold" makes people another link of a catastrophe: switching on heaters people often discard safety rules, which causes fires and sometimes human deaths. It is enough to mention that only in January 2005, the Year of the Rooster, by the way, the fires took 20 human lives, which will surely deliver a blow on those who remained without the family bread winner or the spouse…
The avalanche danger - the "white death" is looming over the territories marked on the map, both in Russia, i.e. at Kamchatka, on Sakhalin, and in Kazakhstan, on the slopes of our beautiful mountains.
Sometimes going to skating rinks high in the mountains is mortally dangerous and not only in our country.
However after this winter of troubles and discontent we should expect a normal spring and a normal summer, - it was merely a "phase displacement".
The nature prepared its own extreme surprises for us. As a popular song goes: "Come on, folks, the summer's coming!".
Also in the "In Depth"
09.01.2013 2012 marked by multiple events in Kazakhstan