From Amazon to Tuvalu: A Global Phenomena

By Salanieta Tamanikaiwaimaro

A family ran for cover as Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in the United States. Another family looks for ant hills to gather the grain which the ants have stored to feed their family in Chad. A farmer in Lao loses his crop and he can no longer afford to keep his children in school. A wheat production company in Russia has trouble meeting its usual quota. Governments are trying to address the challenges of production and this has affected their tradeoffs and the opportunity cost continues to increase. What do these situations have in common?

The effect and impact of climate change is slowly changing the landscape globally.

A recent study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reveals that the Amazon is deteriorating. An international research team led by Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory analysed more than a decade of satellite microwave radar data that was collected between 2000 and 2009 over Amazonia. The observations included measurement of rainfall from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and measurements of the moisture content and structure of the top layer of the forest canopy.
The scientists found that during the summer of 2005, more than 70 million hectares of pristine old – growth forest in southwestern Amazonia experienced extensive drought. This drought caused widespread changes to the forest canopy that were detectable by satellite.

Whilst rainfall levels gradually recovered following the 2005 mega drought, the damage to the forest canopy are said to have persisted all the way to the next major drought which began in 2010. Half of the forest that was affected by the 2005 drought did not recover by the time the 2010 drought hit the Amazon. These Amazonian droughts have drawn attention to the vulnerability of tropical forests to climate change. Researchers believe that that the same phenomena that caused Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the United States also contributed to the drought in the Amazon.

South China was reported by UNESCAP to have experienced the worst drought in a century in 2006 where eight million local residents had difficulties accessing drinking water. The UNESCAP report also stated that in 2006, more than half Australian farmland was classified as drought stricken which indirectly affected global wheat prices.

In 2010, it was also reported that the countries of the Caribbean from Jamaica in the North to Trinidad in the South faced the worst drought in decades. This in turn, affected how these governments allocated resources towards addressing the problems that come with drought.

South East Asia was also affected by a drought in 2010 which affected China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Lao PDR .

Aside from the Caribbean, the Pacific also faced unusual weather occurrences and in 2011, Tuvalu faced a severe drought where they ran out of drinking water and a State of Emergency was declared on September 28, 2011.

Since mid-July 2011, the East African region has been facing what has been said to be the worst drought in 60 years. The drought is said to have caused a severe food crisis across Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya that threatens the lives of 9.5 million people.

In 2012, it was reported that a severe drought was hitting West Africa’s Sahel region. In parts of Chad, the situation was so bad that people were digging anthills in order to unearth grain.

A severe drought in Eastern Europe and Central Asia accounted for most of the decline in world grain production, down 5.5 per cent this year to 661m tonnes, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) .

In Russia, wheat production fell by an estimated 30.6 per cent to 39m tonnes in 2012 from 56.2m tonnes in 2011, according to a Report by the FAO. This was even less than in 2010 when the Russian government imposed a blanket ban on grain exports after a record-breaking drought and heat wave devastated the country’s crops.

A global trend of drought that appears to have originated in the Amazon signals the interconnectedness of our world.

Today, the Amazon faces extraordinary challenges to its landscape where Ecuador’s government officials are commencing a world tour to offer foreign investors the right to drill across 4 million hectares of forest which the local indigenous people are resisting.

Whilst Ecuador’s constitution has express provisions guaranteeing the protection of indigenous rights and the rainforest, recent actions to contemplate drilling is a real and ominous threat. The Kichwa people are struggling to protect their land from drilling by oil giants.

There are a couple of ethical conflicts that surface, one is the right of people to preserve their land and prevent the drilling of oil. The other is the effect that the environmental damages would have on the immediate surrounding environment and the globe. If this drilling goes ahead, the world will witness more intense droughts, famine, wars, aggravated food and water crisis, increased mass migration, increased land conflict and civil unrest.

What does the Amazon have to do with the Pacific? Aside from Ecuador governing Galapagos Island an island in the Pacific inhabited by Polynesians, we see from the 2005 Drought in the Amazon how there were subsequent climatic changes that impacted Tuvalu. Rising sea levels continue to impact low lying atolls through salt water intrusion, receding coastlines and Tuvalu and Kiribati have been trying to make their voices heard. This has also impacted on migration.

Globally, the response to climate change has been through advocacy by civil society, nation states engaging in diplomatic relations and the negotiation of policies and frameworks and conferences of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention to Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The impact of global consumerism on the environment creates market dynamics that fuel production to meet global demands. Most often the objective of Producers is to increase production and make maximum profit, which may mean taking certain avenues that reduce operational expenditure but often tends to devastate the environment, such as leaving behind a toxic trail polluting water reserves amongst many other things.

What drives mankind’s seemingly insatiable desire for “more” where “more is better”?

There is a need to address the Leadership Dilemma.

The Pacific would do well to start preparing its reserves, learning from their counterparts across the world and harnessing technology and building systems that will help them sustain the tomorrow’s challenges. We do not need to experience crisis to start preparing, we need to learn from the ant and the last thing I intend to do is to start digging anthills in search of food.

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