Flooding in Sri Lanka ~ global climate related crisis

Sri Lanka is again counting its survivors, wounded and fatalities from extraordinarily impactful rains during monsoon season.

At last count, there were 202 dead, several thousand wounded and over 500,000 people displaced.

The primary culprit for the damage was mudslides, but so were rising waters in communities perched alongside riverbanks.

A map of the most impacted regions. We live in Galle, the second most impacted by the flooding.

The government wasted no time in dispatching all military services, municipal, regional and national government employees to help communities in need. The military ~ brave men and women from the Army, Navy and Air Force tackled the calamity with typical professionalism and courage.

The newspapers recount the story of a brave young air force officer who was recalled from leave, to be dispatched for a reconnaissance mission that proved fatal.  Rather than stay the course and just observe, when he and his team saw people stranded sending an SOS, he made the right thing ~ he made the executive decision to swoop down and offer assistance.  There were wounded amongst the people he visited and, as a trained and practiced rescue officer, he lowered himself some 50 feet from a stabilized helicopter, strapped the wounded and had them lifted up to the helicopter to be flown to a hospital.  In the process of his second rescue, his own straps tore and he went down.  He was rescued by his mates, but ultimately succumbed.

The Air Force has been flying rescue missions, delivering goods, medicine, blankets to stranded communities.

The population too, is “on it”.

Spontaneous collections of food, medicine and other goods is in full swing.  In our region of Galle, one of the hardest hit regions, one can spot collection points for goods every few hundred feet.  Private businesses are engaged in the effort as well.

Many homes such as this one, had water levels almost waist-high to contend with.

We contributed to the collection in our small way – having heard that water was in short supply, and that the current priority was dry goods.

Ben buying bottled water and large bags of the staple food, rice, to contribute to collection efforts in our area.

Drop off at a hotel collection point nearby.

A room full of donated items, many ready for delivery. Divided into bags for families in need.

There are other priorities, such as baby food, diapers and such… one such list collected by a foreigner who has turned her hotel into a staging post.  As a woman, she cleverly wanted to understand what “gender bias” may have been reflected in the emergency lists of goods communicated and indeed, she found that some critical items, such as diapers, sanitary napkins and baby food, were not adequately addressed. Our next delivery will reflect this list of priorities…

It is a peculiar timing that has this flooding event hit Sri Lanka the very same week that the US President opted, shockingly, to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord.

This puts the United States in a select group of 3 countries against, versus 197 countries committed to addressing climate change.  The other 2 countries are Syria and Nicaragua (which felt that the Paris accord did not go far enough!).

What a sickening and downright bad decision by the U.S. government ~ to prioritize narrow domestic politics and financial contributions by the likes of Exxon over scientifically-supported evidence of climate impact by human consumption and generated carbon emissions!

And, on an additional level, what an amazingly shortsighted geo-political move, handing over to China a golden opportunity to surge as a “global leader” filling the void created by an absent U.S.

History will judge this decision harshly, absolutely no doubt.

There is often a misperception that “climate change” refers to some far distant cataclysmic weather events.

Politicians in the U.S. tend to parse words about what “human impact” really means, but it only requires that one connect some very simple dots to understand that climate change impact is here and now.  .

Bottom line:

The warming of temperatures (no-one disputes this, as it is a well proven measurement of recorded temperatures all over the world) results in a higher condensation of humidity in the air.

The practical and measurable result is that when “normal” events happen, such as monsoons, or hurricanes, the amount of water content in the atmosphere is much higher than it has historically been, and therefore, the result is harder, longer, more intense rains = more precipitation.

Coming after the opposite climate problem, namely longer droughts, predictably the earth cannot absorb the precipitations, and flooding ensues. Flooding is one of the greatest challenges of our time, which will only increase as the planet warms and water levels rise. More rain, more water, more floods, more disasters.

The rains have subsided, for now, and this is allowing Sri Lanka to regain its footing, but the aftermath of this flooding event will be felt for a long time.  People who have lost homes will need to be rehoused or relocated.  Families will mourn their loved ones and need to adjust to a new post-disaster reality.  There will also probably be some introspection at the level of the government re what needs to be done to improve disaster preparedness.

This issue of Climate ADAPTATION, i.e. moving beyond the sterile conversations about whether or not humans are the cause of global warming, is the order of the day.  There have been and will continue to be more climate related crises.  It is imperative that we collectively shift focus to climate ADAPTATION ~ this is true at the level of each household, each town, each country and entire continents.

This is what we did, for several years, in Nicaragua: developing a bamboo-based housing for victims of a hurricane – an extreme weather event that destroyed the indigenous Mayangna communities of Northeast Nicaragua.

In 2012, Peta and I, as founders of CO2 Bambu, were selected to attend Al Gore’s global effort to groom passionate actors such as ourselves into full fledged “Climate Reality leaders”.  This was a milestone life event for us, which fueled our motivation to persevere with our bamboo-based climate mitigation business in Nicaragua… (See our blog post below from 2012.)

Meeting Al Gore for Climate Reality Leadership Corps

In fact, this Al Gore boost of insight on Climate Reality, led us to invest time, effort and money toward developing (2013)  a housing solution that would result in higher levels of resilience during flooding.

Disaster resilience. Ben’s multiple life chapters converge….

The challenge to invent solutions to become more resilient in the face of inevitable climate-related crises is our generation’s highest priority ~ at least in the 194 countries that are signatory to the Paris Accord.

 

34 thoughts on “Flooding in Sri Lanka ~ global climate related crisis

  1. Shari Pratt

    One of our sons and his wife have their doctorates in physics. There is not a reputable scientist in the world who doubts disastrous human-made climate change. Many of us in the United States, perhaps even most of us, are appalled at what this president is doing. Our kids and grandkids will live in the world for decades beyond us – we hope. We want to leave the world a better, safer, freer, more peaceful, healthful, and sustainable planet. Trump does not represent me but unfortunately he does make decisions that affect me and everyone else. We keep hoping that the Republicans in Congress will finally make the right decisions for this country and resist the short-sighted and dangerous decisions of the current administration.

    My heart goes out to the people of Sri Lanka who are suffering, whose friends and family members have lost their lives because of the flooding devastation. Thank you for doing good work.

    1. Peta Kaplan

      Shari, thank you for your substantive heartfelt comments.

      The abandonment of scientific fact as a criterion for decision making and policy formulation of this administration and of Republicans over the past few years, is truly historic. It is simply mind boggling that a country with its record of scientific and technological achievements can so quickly have made a U turn away from facts and data and science into the world of faith and alternative facts.

      The very fact that an increasing number of school districts have chosen and are allowed to choose to treat creationism on par with evolution as an equally valid theory, just illustrates that this is a cultural movement in the United States. We really have to wrap our heads around the fact that for a significant proportion of the US population scientific facts and expertise are of relative value and importance.

      Sri Lanka is at an early stage of post disaster recovery and we will be keeping an eye to see if there are opportunities to help as we move forward.

      Ben

  2. AJ

    My thoughts are with you, your lovely neighbors and the Sri Lankans in general. Such hardships seem to affect and fall, disproportionately, on communities that are often already struggling, living in poverty, in shabby conditions, on the edge. Hats off to you both for all the assistance that you bring to the people who need it most…

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Amit, it is an absolute fact that whereas carbon emissions are generated by a small minority of high consumers in developed economies, the geography of extreme weather impact affects disproportionately the populations of developing countries. You are spot on. It is not just an impression or anecdotally true, it is empirically true that poorer developing countries have and will continue to bear the brunt of climate change. In fact, that is the very core of the financial mechanisms that have been considered for years and that are at the core of the Paris climate change accord. Richer more polluting countries through some kind of carbon exchange, are funding and will continue to fund climate mitigation and climate adaptation projects in the developing world.

      We have done very little to assist, but little is better than not doing anything at all.

      Ben

  3. John Robertshaw

    You are living proof that caring is an active verb. Sri Lanka is blessed to have you there, especially in this time of need.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      John thanks for your kind words, however, we feel that such high praise is undeserving. There are many many people who have done much much more. One definitely feels better by helping rather than just feeling bad about a situation. As we see it, it is part of the basic contract wherever you live to be aware what your immediate community needs and to contribute according to your ability at that time.

      Ben

    2. judith westerfield

      I’ve read all the comments and so agree. John’s says it the most succinctly.

      Caring and love are indeed verbs. There are no coincidences and you being in a part of the world that needs compassion in the form of action is testimony. It makes no matter how “large” or “small” our parts are the important thing is doing our part. May you be forever blessed for doing yours.

      1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

        Judith ~ thank you for your touching and heartwarming comments.

        The belief that “something is better than nothing” is one we both adhere to. Sometimes one can do a lot, sometimes a little, but doing nothing is is not our preferred choice. As an example, ben is more inclined to work through larger more complex initiatives such as our efforts to provide housing to over 200 families, victims of hurricanes in Nicaragua. But these projects are by definition large complex and time consuming efforts. Peta will go out of her way to help one person, one animal, one family…. in the hope that she can hopefully have positive impact in a more immediate way. The combination of this macro and micro approach works well for us as a couple.

        Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Peggy for thinking of us and our Sri Lankan neighbors. It is very true that people who have gone through extreme weather events have no difficulty wrapping their heads around the concept of climate change. We experienced this first hand when our bamboo housing business won a contract to build eco friendly homes for victims of hurricane destruction in Nicaragua. The Mayagna indigenous community leaders we spoke with, were absolutely clear about the trends over their lifetimes of increasing storms and extreme weather events. You might find this video relevant… It is an interview of a Mayagna community leader commenting on our work building homes for their community. In fact, we will post it here and add it to the blog post.

      Ben

  4. Sue Slaght

    Oh my goodness so heartbreaking to see the devastation and to hear of the lives lost and so many displaced! It does not surprise me that you two are involved in helping those in need. As to the goings on in the US I can barely see straight to type.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Sadly, this scene of devastation and life changing extreme weather events is repeated over and over all over the globe. We were in Haiti shortly after the massive earthquake, and the scale and magnitude of the destruction was hard to fathom and to see. To this day, vast swaths of the Haitian population remain without shelter, without income or proper facilities, medical attention, food etc. So disasters may last seconds (during earthquakes) or days (during flooding) but the recovery is more often measured in years…. and whatever media attention may be available to harness support, last but a moment because another catastrophe takes over the media and publics attention.

      Sue thanks for your heartfelt comments.

      Ben

  5. Rusha Sams

    So often I wonder how much more the people of third world countries — or any countries decimated by natural disasters — can stand. Thanks for all you do, especially for making us aware of the situation.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Rusha, since we knew very little about Sri Lanka before our very first visit here about 3 years ago, we are keenly aware that there is a lack of knowledge even amongst seasoned global travelers about Sri Lanka. We do hope that through our recounting our experiences in country, we contribute in some way to the understanding the “outside world” has of Sri Lanka.

      Sadly, the reality is that with climate change, natural disasters will only increase in severity and frequency.

      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Peta & Ben

  6. Joanne Sisco

    Compared to this, our own ongoing flooding issues are nothing. I’m glad that at least the 2 of you are well and weathering this crisis.

    As for the state of current US politics? I think this may be the beginning of a new Dark Age.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Joanne everything is always relative isn’t it? We were lucky that even though our region around Galle was hit severely, our specific location was not impacted.

      Don’t know about the beginning of a Dark Age, but certainly a dramatic erosion in the U.S. democratic experiment, U.S. leadership of the so called “free world” and U.S. imprint on global systems from the practice of free trade to the orchestration of global efforts to fight climate change.

      Europe has demonstrated its willingness and ability to step up and provide an alternative at a time of diminished leadership. Interestingly, history, I believe will look back on this brief period as a turning point from the stable post world war II bi polar world (U.S. versus Soviet Union) to a multi polar world where multiple voices and influences will be considered… U.S., Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Asean. It will make for a much messier state of affairs but may not be entirely bad at a global level, except of course that U.S. interests will increasingly be mitigated by other sets of interests.

      Ben

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Nicole. It is interesting that the climate change deniers are only to be found in the U.S. The rest of the world is all on board with the reality and severity of climate change. It is really sad that something so profound in its impact has in the U.S. become a political issue.

      Peta

  7. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    We, along with the majority of US citizens and citizens of the world, are reeling (and railing) against DT’s ignorant, shortsighted and malicious decision to appease the climate-change deniers and remove the US from the Paris Climate Change Accord. I’m not sure when the far right decided that climate change and global warming are at odds with their version of religion but our nation and the world will pay a huge price in the years to come if the US doesn’t find a way to back away from this decision.

    I’m so glad that you were personally not affected by the flooding but my heart goes out to your neighbors and those who have suffered so many losses during the flooding.

    Anita

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Anita, in terms of history we may be wrong but think that the origin of the politicization of climate change came courtesy of Karl Rove under Bush. What is particularly vexing and anyone with intellectual honesty, even Republican, would have to admit, is that the whole climate change solution path around a global carbon exchange process is by definition a “market driven solution”. Republicans who historically have a preference for market driven solutions ought to be thrilled with such a solution. Meanwhile, while Republicans continue to deny climate change, the global market for carbon exchange and carbon credits has become a HUGE market reaching at its peak over a 100 billion dollars a year in carbon trading.

      We are thrilled to read that 200 mayors, severals states and over 100 large businesses and companies have opted to immediately declare their intentions to support the spirit of the VOLUNTARY Paris Climate Change Accord. We are thrilled that Bloomberg has stepped up to fund the administrative cost of U.S. participation in the Climate Change Accord. We are tickled pink that California’s Governor Jerry Brown has stepped up to the plate, has met with China’s Prime Minister Xi, as well as France’s president Macron and Germany’s chancellor Merkel. This is what leadership looks like!

      Ben

  8. Anabel Marsh

    Donation sent. It’s not strictly true to say that only the US has climate change deniers. Our lamentable Prime Minister, having thrown away her majority in an unnecessary election, is now to be propped up by the DUP, a party which contains climate change deniers, homophobes, misogynists and creationists. I’ve probably missed a few unsavoury characteristics, but you get the picture there. Aargh!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Anabel thanks firstly for the donation to the flood recovery effort.

      Thanks too for the correction and education on deniers, it is certainly news to us. I guess the U.K deniers have not yet reached the tipping point of getting the U.K. to abandon this global effort, but we get your point.

      Ben

  9. Gilda Baxter

    My heart goes out to all these poor people who lost everything, including loved ones. It is astonishing that DT is in denial about climate changes. Incredible courage of the airforce officer and so sad that he has lost his life in the process of saving others…it is heartbreaking.

  10. Mabel Kwong

    It is devastating to hear what has happened in Sri Lanka and hopefully their lives turn around for the better. Very kind of everyone to be pitching in to help and make a difference in such hard times. When it’s times like these you realise how much we rely on basic things like water and clean clothes to get on with our lives. Rebuilding is often the most challenging part of a natural disaster or something similar of magnitude.

    What a great opportunity to have seen Al Gore in 2012. Everyone plays a part in the uncertain times of climate change – it’s times like these we have to put politics aside and focus on creating a sustainable environment.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Mabel for your thoughtful comments. It is very true that we all take basic necessities such as a roof over our head, drinking water, a dry bed etc, for granted. Rebuilding is definitely a huge challenge after disasters and are often ongoing for extended periods of time.

      Meeting Al Gore and participating in the leadership training was interesting and informative and it was great to be surrounded by so many people all committed to environmental issues.

      Peta

  11. Liesbet

    So sorry to read about the floods in Sri Lanka (I had no idea…). I am not surprised about your kind hearts and efforts to help! How much more evidence does anyone need that climate change is real???? And then all those crazy, childly, inconsiderate and far-reaching (or shall I say “stupid”)decisions that are being made at the highest (US) level. I just want to bang Trumps head (or mine sometimes out of frustration) against the wall. Maybe that will get some sense into his “brain”… Sorry… Rant over. My thoughts are with you and your neighbors!!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Liesbet for your concern. We did our small part and thankfully at least the monsoon season seems to be over and the sun is back out full time so areas are drying out…

      It is hard to watch what is happening and not get frustrated and depressed… but hopefully karma has a way of working itself out and time will tell where this all leads… we can only hope for the best and try to stay as positive as possible….

      Peta

  12. Caroline Helbig

    So sorry to hear about the hardship being faced by the Sri Lankan people.

    I was completely shocked when I heard about The US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. What a sad and disturbing state of affairs.

    Thanks to both of you for your efforts to help in your area.
    My thoughts are with you!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Caroline for your empathy. The worst of the Monsoon rains for this season appear to be over and this has allowed many to return to their homes to clean and repair the damage if possible.

      We can only hope that the Paris Climate Accord is supported by a majority of mayors, governors and private companies in the U.S. which have the legal option to voluntarily meet the spirit of the commitments previously made at the level of the federal government.

      Peta

  13. Johanna Bradley

    The good news is that people are actively employed bringing what help and relief they can. Our world seems beset by problems, Peta. I’m sure that many of them are self inflicted but that doesn’t help the sufferers.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Self inflicted, yes often… such as the tower in London recently on fire due to poor safety practices in the construction process… And flooding events in a region we visited recently where the owners of a hotel had removed the sand dunes in the process of construction thereby removing the natural barriers that nature provides.

      A current crisis felt in Sri Lanka (other than the flooding) stems from a recent landfill which collapsed on the nearby shantytown and many lost their homes and their lives. Could have totally been prevented. The waste management challenge of a country like Sri Lanka to be sure is extremely complex because the culture of recycling and reusing is not there and the investment in waste management facilities has not been made. So yes, there is often a man made aspect but orchestrating man made solutions to deal with complex social and geographic issues is a herculean task.

      Ben

  14. My Inner Chick

    My heart and thoughts are w/ you, Peta, Sri Lanka, and the World.
    I ache inside. I cry inside…
    but know there are people in the world who ARE NOT like our President and others
    who think Only of themselves.

    xx from MN.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you Kim for your heartfelt concern.

      Yes, the current president of the US is not a role model of empathy. His most recent distraction: removing human rights violations from the fabric of US foreign policy. It has taken decades to build a pattern of the US injecting human rights issues as a strand that is woven with economic trade and foreign policy. But it has taken only weeks for this administration to say “ahhh never mind.”

      Ben

  15. Dahlia

    Heartbreaking and tragic state of affairs. I particularly feel for the young man you died (possibly unnecessarily – somebody has been lax and careless otherwise the straps wouldnt have given way) in the call of duty. Thank you for bringing this story to the world and for doing your bit.

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