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.
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.
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.
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. .
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.)
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.
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.