Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Japan, 2011
No, it isn't really falling, Chicken Little, even though it seems like it is these days. Earthquakes, tsunamis, destructive storms and floods, and all.

China 2008
Japan, Haiti, Chile, China, and Turkey have caught our attention in recent months. Unusual? Are such things occurring more frequently? No, they're not.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), global earthquake activity is actually a bit below average for recent years.  

That's a bit of a surprise.  Take a look at the statistics if you're interested.  

There are, however, new risks and new reasons to rethink future plans for regional development.  As is always the case, it's time for change.

The new issue:
The population at risk is increasing rapidly. 

While the number of large earthquakes is fairly constant, population and construction density in earthquake-prone areas is constantly increasing. In some countries, new construction has better earthquake resistance.  In many it does not, and we're seeing increasing casualties from the same sized earthquakes.
World population has multiplied seven-fold in two centuries.  The increasing population at risk means all natural disasters have potential to do greater harm.  Coastal areas particularly are prime candidates for growth, sometimes with well thought out, storm resistant construction and water runoff management, but often not.

In tough economic times, folks go where they hope to find work.  The trade and business centers along the coast and along major rivers are overburdened with the influx in recent decades.  A storm flood or hurricane surge or tsunami will cause significantly greater harm than the same event would have caused thirty years ago. 

The second big issue is climate change.

Sea levels are rising, and according to the models, destructive weather will increase for some areas.  We haven't seen it yet, at least not definitively, but if the science is correct, we will in the next generation.  With the sea level and weather changes, coastal areas are at increasing risk along with the folks who live there. 

Developing countries are often at greater risk. With fewer skilled planners and experienced staff, coastal regions often bloom uncontrollably with foreign-owned businesses and the associated population increases.

Kenya coast hotel construction
Some of the worlds most extraordinarily beautiful beaches are along the African coast and are viewed by foreign investors as business opportunities, particularly with lax construction standards and low labor costs. Haphazard housing areas and slums spring up quickly around such activity, increasing the number of folks at risk.

As is always the case, it's time for change.  :)

Scientists, academics, governments, and us common folks are waking up to the issues, fortunately.  The next decades will see emerging reasonableness to go with the discussions.  Thought about it yet?  If your kids are in school, have you heard their questions on the subject yet?  Interesting times.

Typically African; palms, sand, forest, and local children splashing in the water on a warm afternoon.  Just a fortunate few know where these undeveloped beaches are located.  And I'm not telling.  :)

The north shore is a popular recreation site for local folks.

Thirty minutes south from the city is this idyllic spot.

Just five minutes from my work site, kids jump in the ocean for no reason at all.

Ten minutes in the other direction, my friend's grand-kids enjoy an hour at the beach just down the hill from their home.  Much of their world is along the shore, and it will be visibly changed in their lifetimes.