Thursday, October 13, 2016

Extreme Weather:  Haiti Storm Peril Exposes Climate Burden in Poor Nations

A Haitian man stands next to the foundation of his former house Sunday in a seaside fishing neighborhood in Port Salut almost destroyed by Hurricane Matthew. (Photo Credit: AP Images) Click to Enlarge.
Hurricane Matthew's devastation of Haiti is an example of what climate experts see as the disproportionate burden that global warming can have on poor, unprepared communities.  Phenomena like extreme weather events, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and salinity intrusion tend to effect marginalized people more, they say.

According to the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change include Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan — none of which has the infrastructure and financial resources to adequately combat the issue.  Haiti is the 23rd most vulnerable country on the list.

"If you look at the disasters in the '80s and '90s, there are several factors that predict a larger impact in developing countries — larger death tolls, larger infrastructure damage and longer recovery rates," said Beth Caniglia, director of the Sustainable Economic and Enterprise Development Center at Regis University's College of Business and Economics.

'Massive challenges'
A variety of factors are in play:  Many developing countries don't have climate-resilient infrastructure or the funds to build it.  This is despite the fact that many are also tropical countries, whose populations stand to lose a lot because of sea-level rise and stronger storms.

In Haiti, mean temperatures have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in three decades.  The nation is located in a storm-prone area and has a big problem with flooding.  Local drainage systems are rudimentary and generally consist of open channels dug alongside roads.

"The country doesn't have a lot of sewer systems," said Peter Wampler, an associate professor with Grand Valley State University's geology department.  "In 2012, only 55 percent of people in urban areas had access to what's called 'improved sanitation' — usually a latrine.  In rural areas, that number is only 20 percent.  Unfortunately, the geology and hydrology of Haiti have caused cholera to become resident, and so when it rains, it flushes the disease out."

Poor infrastructure also means that it's more difficult for people to cope with disasters like Hurricane Matthew on a basic level.  Homes are generally made of wood or cinder block and aren't stormproof.  According to Caniglia, the storm destroyed around 66,000 homes in Haiti.

"You wouldn't experience that level of destruction in an industrialized nation," Caniglia said. "Moreover, people in the U.S. can prepare for large-scale evacuations, but in Haiti there aren't a lot of cars or highways to be able to drive quickly out of the area."

The lack of preparedness extends to the government.  According to a 2014 report by Oxfam International, disaster management plans in Haiti aren't comprehensive enough to address weather events like Hurricane Matthew.  In the Sud and Sud-Est regions — which are close to the coastline, low-lying and prone to storms — officials don't have enough data to put together effective risk management plans.

Read more at Extreme Weather:  Haiti Storm Peril Exposes Climate Burden in Poor Nations

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