Will Southeast Asia be able to cope with more flooding and rising waters?

Sea level rise is a climate change impact that will affect some regions more than others. Contrary to what most people perceive, changes in sea level is not like filling up a bath tub where there the rise in water will be evenly spread throughout. In reality, local topography and ocean currents are two of the major factors that will determine the increase of sea level in an area. In some regions, land may be sinking due to several factors, and can increase the rate of sea level rise. In terms of ocean currents, warming oceans are shifting the currents that tend to pull water away from the shore or pull it in.


Small islands will be the first to be affected by sea level rise, so it’s not surprising that they were the ones who fought for the 1.5 degrees target in the Paris Agreement. Many have questioned the feasibility of reaching the said goal, especially with countries currently unable to commit to carbon mitigation that would stop global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial period.

However, in a conference in London, Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has reminded the public the importance of the 1.5 degrees target, especially for vulnerable countries.

“The reason for 1.5 degrees is absolutely crucial. It is the only temperature that gives 50% chance for the most vulnerable populations to survive the effects of climate change. Two degrees would mean 95% of Pacific Islands would go under water, 30% of Bangladesh goes under water, 30% of Florida goes under water, New York gets completely flooded. If New York gets flooded, they will know what to do. What do we do about Bangladesh? What do we do about Pacific Islands going under water? This means these people will have no home. Talk about forced migration, talk about tragic. Those people have zero responsibility in the past, present, and future. 1.5 has got to be where we work forward,” said Figueres.

“I hear everyone say it’s impossible, we’re just going to have to make it possible. To go at this with a defeatist attitude and accept that we have no other options but to go to 2 degrees or three or four, is inadmissible,” Figueres added.

 

SLR in Southeast Asia

Latest research by Sally Brown show that the impacts of sea level rise in South East Asia will affect (insert number of people). Southeast Asian cities like Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok, and Hanoi will all be affected by rising sea levels.

At 3.6 degrees Celsius of global warming, Southeast Asia will experience 0.41 meters of sea level rise by 2100. Without adaptation measures, roughly 11.5 million people per year in the region will be at risk of flooding.

Below, we look at four countries and how they are preparing to face more floods in the coming years.

 

 
Philippines

At 3.6C of global warming, the Philippines will experience 0.4 meters of sea level rise, and without adaptation, will affect 1.2 million of the population per year. According to Filipino geologist Dr. Mahar Lagmay, Metro Manila area is already sinking due to groundwater extraction. Coupled with sea level rise, the region of 12 million people will be affected with more flooding and inundation of coastal areas. Already, the region experiences flooding due to torrential downpours, but with sea level rise and more rainfall, this will become worse.

“As the land around Manila Bay sinks and the sea level rises, the flooding is spreading not
only in the city, but also in the surrounding provinces,” Greg Bankoff from Auckland University says in an interview with Correctiv.

In 2009, typhoon Ketsana caused floods seven meters high, submerging 80% of Metro Manila under water, and displacing 300,000 people.

Adaptation will be crucial in ensuring the population is ready to face the waters. However, Lagmay does not believe that the country’s climate change agency is capable.

“From what I’ve seen, they have only been focussed on conferences but they have done nothing on the ground. They don’t even have policies for probabilistic modelling. What does that say of our climate change programme?,” Lagmay said.

According to Lagmay, climate change planning in the Philippines has been largely based on historical records of hazards and not future climate change impacts. This, he said, has led to maladaptation, citing typhoon Haiyan as an example.

“Haiyan happened and it was bigger than what we knew. Since the planning was based only on what we knew, we were surprised when the storm surge happened two to three meters on land,” Lagmay said.

Typhoon Haiyan brought about a storm surge that killed at least 7,000 people.

“When you do probabilistic modelling, you are able to see hazards bigger than what the community knows and you can see the dangers brought by climate change. If we don’t use for planning maps that depict bigger things that community knows, you are missing on adaptation measures that are needed. What will happen if a bigger event happens than what the community knows? They will be caught by surprise and a disaster will happen,” Lagmay added.

Indonesia

An archipelago with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia faces the threats of the rising Java Sea. Some of the islands have already sunk. According to Freddy Numberi, former Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister of Indonesia, four islands disappeared in 2004 after a tsunami devastated Aceh province.

With 3.6C of global warming and no adaptation, Indonesia will experience 0.41 meters of sea level rise, and will put more than 2.2 million people at risk per year.

'According to experts, there will be a sea level rise of up to 90 centimeters by 2050, which could drown 2,000 small islands in Indonesia,' said public policy specialist Achmad Poernomo in The Jakarta Post.

In the country’s capital, Indonesia, the threat is similar to the Philippines’ Metro Manila — not only are sea levels rising, the land is also sinking. In fact, Jakarta is said to be sinking faster than any other city in the world. Ten million residents of the capital are exposed to floods. In 2013, parts of Jakarta were submerged under water after a monsoon storm flooded the city with 2 meters of water.

In 2014, the government launched a $263 million project to build a sea wall along Jakarta’s coast.

"If we don't do anything, in 2050 Jakarta will sink due to rapid ground subsidence and rising sea level,” said Chairul Tanjung, former Coordinating Minister for Economics, said in an interview with Reuters.

However, the sea wall is only built to resist high tides and rising sea levels until 2030. What happens after?

In the same article from The Jakarta Post, Poernomo underlines the importance of tackling disasters resulting from climate change. “The fisheries and maritime affairs minister Susi Pudjiastuti has written a letter, asking all regional heads to manage natural resources sustainably,’ he said.

However, Sudibyakto from the Gajah Mada University’s Disaster Management programme, believes that there is not enough expertise in disaster mitigation to address the level of disaster risks in the country.

Indonesia

An archipelago with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia faces the threats of the rising Java Sea. Some of the islands have already sunk. According to Freddy Numberi, former Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister of Indonesia, four islands disappeared in 2004 after a tsunami devastated Aceh province.

With 3.6C of global warming and no adaptation, Indonesia will experience 0.41 meters of sea level rise, and will put more than 2.2 million people at risk per year.

'According to experts, there will be a sea level rise of up to 90 centimeters by 2050, which could drown 2,000 small islands in Indonesia,' said public policy specialist Achmad Poernomo in The Jakarta Post.

In the country’s capital, Indonesia, the threat is similar to the Philippines’ Metro Manila — not only are sea levels rising, the land is also sinking. In fact, Jakarta is said to be sinking faster than any other city in the world. Ten million residents of the capital are exposed to floods. In 2013, parts of Jakarta were submerged under water after a monsoon storm flooded the city with 2 meters of water.

In 2014, the government launched a $263 million project to build a sea wall along Jakarta’s coast.

"If we don't do anything, in 2050 Jakarta will sink due to rapid ground subsidence and rising sea level,” said Chairul Tanjung, former Coordinating Minister for Economics, said in an interview with Reuters.

However, the sea wall is only built to resist high tides and rising sea levels until 2030. What happens after?

In the same article from The Jakarta Post, Poernomo underlines the importance of tackling disasters resulting from climate change. “The fisheries and maritime affairs minister Susi Pudjiastuti has written a letter, asking all regional heads to manage natural resources sustainably,’ he said.

However, Sudibyakto from the Gajah Mada University’s Disaster Management programme, believes that there is not enough expertise in disaster mitigation to address the level of disaster risks in the country.

 

Thailand

Sea level rise, coastal erosion, and shifting clay soil are factors that threaten Bangkok. According to researcher James Syvitski, the Chao Phraya Delta, which runs through Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand, faces one of the most severe sea level rise globally.

Thai culture is intertwined with water — it is embedded in religious rituals and celebrations. The city is filled with floating markets. Thailand’s New Year, called Songkran, means transformation or change. During Songkran, water is poured over Buddhs statues to wash away sins and bad luck. Streets are closed as water fights ensue among the young and old.

But with the rising sea levels and more floods, will water continue to be a part of celebrations or will it cause more grief?

In October 2011, severe flooding due to the monsoon season and tropical storm Nock-ten resulted to 815 deaths and three missing. Around thirteen million people were affected, with 76 provinces declared as flood disaster zones. In some areas, the floods persisted until January 2012.

As with Jakarta and Metro Manila, Thailand’s capital is sinking. That, coupled with rising sea levels,  will make Bangkok a new Atlantis by 2100 says Smith Dharmasaroja in an interview with The Guardian.

The government has been criticised for little action addressing the problem.

In an interview with Channel News Asia, Dr. Anond Snidvongs from Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), says that implementation of solutions to prevent Bangkok from sinking are costly.

“To protect Bangkok from being submerged, there are costs. Costs aren't just financial but also the impact on other provinces. Floodwater has to go somewhere. So what are we going to do with affected people? And will everyone in Thailand bear the costs or just Bangkokians?”, he said.

In another interview with VOA News, Snidvongs laments the lack of political will of the Thai government to address the issue,

"At the moment most of the policy at almost every level in Thailand doesn't take into consideration climate change at all. They're not aware that even right now we have extreme events but many of the design or plans are based on the assumption that everything is constant,” he said.
 

 

Vietnam

With over 3,200 kilometres of coast line and the Mekong Delta situated in the south, Vietnam faces the worst threats of sea level rise among Southeast Asian countries. At 3.6C of global warming and 0.41 meters of sea level rise, more than six million Vietnamese people per year are at risk due to flooding. Additionally, the most fertile agricultural lands are on the Red River and Mekong Delta, areas that are susceptible to sea level rise. Seventeen million people live on the Mekong Delta alone.

The Vietnamese government has a policy called “living with floods,” maximising the good effects of flooding and minimising its bad effects instead of stopping them from happening.

In an interview with UNDP Vietnam, Vo Thanh Danh, a researcher at the Institute of Climate Change Study at Cantho University, says, “A flood adaptation policy is better than eliminating them. Even floods bring more benefits than losses if we can live with and adapt to floods.”

As part of the programme, villagers are encouraged to switch to aquaculture from agriculture, and children are taught how to swim.

But are these enough to protect the Vietnamese people from a future disaster?

Last year, 389 people were killed due to floods and landslides. Just this week, tropical storm Son Tinh have brought torrential rains causing flooding and landslides in north Vietnam. Twenty seven people are reported dead, 12,000 houses have been submerged under water, and 90,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed.

As global temperature rises, climate change impacts will only worsen. Will Vietnam be ready to face them?

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