Floods in Timor-Leste
Between April 29 and March 4, 2021, extreme weather struck the nation of Timor-Leste. Cyclone Seroja created “strong winds and heavy rain,” according to the Associated Press. The U.N. explained that heavy rain, in turn, led to landslides and flash floods during the cyclone. The challenging weather struck Timor Leste’s capital city, Dili, particularly hard. In fact, around 8,000 Timorese people had to move to temporary shelters and 34 people died due to the floods in Timor-Leste.

Since April 2021, the floods in Timor-Leste have received little coverage from Western news sources and the work of rebuilding and providing resources is ongoing. In fact, the country’s government requested more “support to address residual humanitarian needs” in June 2021.

The Current Situation

A U.N. report, dated July 16, 2021, has provided details about which areas still require attention. These include the evacuation centers, which are still housing 730 people, as well as food and water accessibility. As part of its section on “Gender & Protection,” the report stressed the necessity for well-lit bathrooms with lockable doors for both men and women at the evacuation centers. Additionally, the report noted that those living in evacuation centers will need access to materials so that they can fix their damaged homes or build new ones. 

More broadly, clean water and COVID-19 are major concerns. Initiatives to restore the country’s piped water supply system is on their way in order to deliver water to the capital and other areas. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have risen, and the country lacks supplies and equipment to deal with the pandemic effectively. Cyclone Seroja resulted in the flooding of Timor Leste’s national medical storage facility, leading to the destruction of medical supplies.

The report from the U.N. shows that there is a demand for information as well. In its section on “Education,” the report noted that “[d]etailed information on damages and losses in schools not yet available.” The report listed the problem in regard to its “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene” section as well.

USAID Food Assistance

Shortly after the floods in Timor-Leste, The New Humanitarian reported that “food affordability [was] emerging as [a] growing [worry]” due to the impact of the floods on crops. In fact, the cost of rice increased by more than 20% in one year. The U.N. has suggested that Timor-Leste implement a referral system to resolve malnutrition. 

On July 8, 2021, USAID announced that it would give Timor-Leste an additional $900,000 in assistance after having given $100,000 in the aftermath of Cyclone Seroja. On July 9, 2021, Kevin Blackstone, the U.S. ambassador to Timor-Leste mentioned that the U.S. aimed to impact “farmers in remote areas” by providing “cash or vouchers to buy seeds,” as well as necessary farming tools.

Further Assistance

USAID’s contribution is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.N’.s report lists many other actions that governments and organizations have taken to aid the Timorese government. Among other measures, the Timorese government has given out 36,600 water purification tablets. Additionally, UNICEF gave supplies to a Tasi Tolu community so that education for children could continue and the UNDP began a cash-for-work program, offering jobs to those who need them. Finally, various organizations have worked to provide education about gender-based violence.

The New Humanitarian’s coverage in April 2021 highlighted the actions of local volunteer groups in Timor-Leste. One woman named Berta Antonieta Tilman Pereira worked on fundraising so that she could start community kitchens for evacuees in the aftermath of the floods. Pereira stated that “the community themselves needs to be organized” because “the system that we’re…supposed to trust and rely on…is totally slow and not responding.” The New Humanitarian pointed out that the Timorese government did not request help from international bodies until April 8, 2021, which was four days after the disaster.

Three months after Cyclone Seroja, much still needs to occur in regard to dealing with the effects of floods in Timor-Leste. According to the U.N., 26,186 “affected families…have received emergency support,” and “[t]he majority of the temporarily displaced have returned home.” However, organizations are also carrying out a great deal of work in the hopes of long-lasting recovery.

– Victoria Albert
Photo: Flickr

Flooding Devastates North KoreaIn August 2021, more than 1,100 homes in the Asian country of North Korea were swept away by flooding. The flooding threatens both crops and access to food supplies. As flooding devastates North Korea, both state and world media depict homes flooded up to the roof, along with bridges and dikes washed away. According to Ri Yong Nam, deputy head of the State Hydro-Meteorological Administration, parts of North Hamgyŏng recorded more than 500 millimeters of rain in three days, while in South Hamgyŏng, some areas had more rain in three days than in an average month. Much of the flooding began due to the widespread collapse of rivers. Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, described the situation as “tense,” attesting that many are depending on the year’s harvests. He has ordered the military to enter the worst-affected areas to undertake relief work.

Isolation and Restricted Foreign Aid

While severe flooding is devastating for any nation, the nation’s isolation exacerbates the problems flooding presents for North Koreans. This isolation is in part self-imposed, restricting foreign aid due to fears of a COVID-19 outbreak. The country has, for example, imposed a three-month quarantine on all goods entering its borders, increasing food supply-based uncertainty.

The nation attempted to prepare for the flooding, but due to its poor infrastructure, the country was unable to do so adequately. This is, in part, a result of severe sanctions that countries such as the United States imposed. On August 6, 2021, Jeong Ui-Yong, South Korea’s Foreign Secretary, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed foreign aid to North Korea, but details were not public.

North Korea already has a precarious situation when it comes to agriculture and these floods simply exacerbate it. While flooding devastates North Korea like it does all other nations, it only takes more minor disasters, like a bad harvest, to upset the balance of the agricultural system.

Aid From China

North Korea has so far rejected aid from countries such as its capitalist neighbor, South Korea. However, North Korea receives a great amount of assistance from China, especially foodstuffs and fertilizer to help ease the burden of the agricultural sector. The regime relies heavily on this aid from its more prosperous neighbor to stave off famine.

It is not just the Chinese government that provides a struggling North Korea with aid. Chinese residents do so at a more grassroots level and even North Korean dissenters. Groups of Christians in China who escaped from North Korea, a country that tops the world’s list of the most dangerous places to be a Christian, sometimes smuggle “holy rice” across the border to feed their starving fellow countrymen.

Looking to the Future

While the flooding devastates North Korea, its effects merely exacerbate the more long-term disruptions of the nation’s struggling agricultural sector. It is uncertain whether sanctions will relax or whether the leadership will ease their distrust of offers of aid from capitalist countries. But, nevertheless, aid from both governments and grassroots groups provides hope to struggling North Korean citizens.

– Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

Kounkuey Design InitiativeKounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a nonprofit founded in 2006 by Harvard graduates who sought to combat “poverty, environmental degradation and social isolation.” The inquiry directed the focus of the graduates to Nairobi, Kenya, the birthplace of KDI co-founder, Arthur Adeya. Working with residents of an informal settlement called the Kibera slum, the graduates had an opportunity to put their skills to use in a community impacted by poverty, environmental destruction and social inequalities. While engaging with the realities of the slum, KDI was able to create a community model where the voices of Kibera residents contribute to the design process. By involving the voices of the community, KDI brought the definition of Kounkuey to life. After all, the Thai concept of Kounkuey means “to get to know something intimately.” KDI looked to address the common problem of flooding in Kibera, among other issues.

Flooding in Kibera Slum

According to UN-Habitat, Kenya’s Kibera slum is the second-largest informal settlement in Africa. The estimated population in the almost 555 acres of informal housing ranges from 350,000 to one million people. The high population density coupled with “unplanned and crowded” housing as well as inadequate infrastructure makes the Kibera slum extremely vulnerable to flooding as a result of drainage issues.

The World Bank Group reports that Kenya is highly vulnerable to “climate hazards” such as drought and floods, “which cause economic losses estimated at 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).” Poverty and poor infrastructure are the major reasons why floods are extremely devastating in the Kibera slum. Since women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, flooding in the Kibera slum impacts them significantly by destroying women’s kiosks and exposing children to water-borne diseases.

The poverty in the Kibera slum makes it more difficult for the dwellers to cope with flooding. Most of the residents survive on just $1 a day. The high unemployment rate in Nairobi makes it difficult for those trying to secure jobs in order to survive. According to a 2012 survey, 50% of the population experienced unemployment. Floods have major economic consequences, and for people already living in poverty, the impacts of floods exacerbate poor living conditions.

A survey conducted in the Kibera slum highlighted that half of the respondents’ homes were flooded in the 2015 rainy season. In May 2021, four people died near the Kibera slum due to flooding. The flooding has become increasingly dangerous, but for residents of the dense Kibera slum, moving to higher ground is easier said than done.

The Kibera Public Space Projects and Floods

The Kounkuey Design Initiative started the Kibera Public Space Projects in 2006, aiming to build spaces that could meet the residents’ social and economic needs. There are about 12 projects, including a project that involves constructing bridges over rivers prone to flooding. Not only are the 12 projects vital for protecting people from the impacts of flooding but the projects also protect the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Kibera.

The Kibera Public Space Projects hope to reduce the fatal impacts of flooding, among other goals. The projects involve a series of goals that aim to bring the community together, create efficient drainage and improve social conditions. For instance, some public spaces incorporate “gardens and playgrounds with sanitary blocks, laundry spaces and educational facilities.”

The Kounkuey Design Initiatives addresses flooding in Kibera slum while fostering social inclusion. Using creative design-oriented solutions, KDI addresses issues impacting impoverished areas. The innovative efforts of KDI contribute to overall poverty reduction in Kenya.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Climate change in NigeriaAlthough most greenhouse gas emissions come from the global north, Africa will soon face some of the most severe impacts of the climate crisis. The country of Nigeria is in a uniquely vulnerable position. Home to around 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and 40% of Nigerians live below the national poverty line. Climate change and poverty can act in a vicious cycle. Impoverished people are often unable to adapt to increased temperatures or rising sea levels due to a lack of resources and mobility. When people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change, they can face even greater poverty, especially when children lose access to education. This is also true for poverty and climate change in Nigeria.

Nigeria is located on the Gulf of Guinea, just north of the equator. Due to its size and geographical location, Nigeria is at risk for a great variety of climate-related challenges. Its northern regions, which border the Sahara, are experiencing increasing rates of desertification. Its low-lying coastal areas, meanwhile, are facing rising sea levels and flooding. Despite these challenges, the Nigerian government has set admirable sustainability goals. Furthermore, local farmers are using innovative techniques to adapt to climate change.

Urban Areas

Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, is a rapidly growing economic center. It is home to between 15 and 26 million people and one-third of Nigeria’s GDP. Lagos is surrounded by massive slums which house half of the urban population. These slums, some of which are entirely composed of floating shacks and canoes, are at high risk of flooding as sea levels rise. Rising sea levels, another result of climate change in Nigeria, can cause erosion and contaminate freshwater. This damages Nigeria’s fishing industry, which feeds and employs many impoverished people. Inland areas of Lagos are also being inundated with refugees from coastal areas which have already been destroyed by flooding. As slum populations increase, living conditions become even more unhealthy and dangerous.

Agriculture

Many climate refugees in urban Nigeria come from inland, where conditions have made farming impossible for many poor families. Approximately 70% of Nigerians, many of whom live below the poverty line, rely on agriculture as their primary source of income. In 2018, thousands of people left the agricultural regions of northern Nigeria. They were displaced by droughts, food insecurity and “climate-related conflict.” According to a report from World Bank, the results of climate change in Nigeria such as rising temperatures and “erratic rainfall” could lead to a “20 to 30% reduction in crop yields.” Dust storms are also becoming more common and can significantly deplete topsoil layers. This can be crushing as these topsoil layers are crucial for successful farming. In addition to direct loss of income, poor agricultural yields will lead to food shortages. This harms Nigeria’s most vulnerable populations in both urban and rural areas.

What People Can Do

Although the climate crisis is already significantly impacting impoverished Nigerians, there are still possibilities for climate change mitigation and adaptation. A World Bank report called “Toward Climate-Resilient Development in Nigeria” outlines cost-effective strategies focused on increasing renewable energy generation and reducing agricultural and industrial pollution. One possible adaptation to climate change in Nigeria is a practice called “agroforestry.” This is where farmers plant trees around their crops and animal pastures, protecting them from increased temperatures and reducing topsoil depletion. This farm layout mimics a more natural landscape and can provide farmers with additional resources such as firewood. Additionally, it helps sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Agroforestry is gaining traction as an adaptation to climate change in Nigeria, and it could prove very useful in the future.

– Anneke Taylor
Photo: Wikimedia

Pakistani Flood ReliefWhen the Indus River flooded Pakistan in 2010, the effects were widespread and devastating. Among those that were hit hard were Pakistani children whose schools were severely affected by the flooding. It is estimated that the floods destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 schools. Fast forward 11 years later, however, USAID has announced a major milestone in the now eight-year-long Pakistani flood relief project called the USAID-Sindh Basic Education Programme. USAID reports the completion of 106 schools in Sindh, a province stricken by flood damages.

The 2010 Indus River Floods

The Indus River floods in July and August 2010 were a result of massive monsoon rains causing severe flash flooding in Pakistan. The floods were estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than one million homes and affected more than 20 million people in the region. The impact was felt in just about every area of life in Pakistan.

Industries like farming and healthcare were severely hurt by the floods. Farmers were estimated to have lost millions of acres of usable land and more than a million livestock. Additionally, more than 500 hospitals or clinics in the region were reportedly damaged or destroyed.

On top of this, data from UNICEF in 2010 indicated that more than 1.6 million children either saw their schools damaged by floodwaters or converted into shelters. The massive displacement of children even resulted in fears of a rise in militia kidnappings at the time.

In total, the economic impact of all of that damage done by the floods was estimated as a loss of $43 billion.

USAID’s Pakistani Flood Relief

USAID has given more than $159 million toward education relief following the flood, with $81 million of the funding put directly toward the construction of new schools in northern Sindh. The money helped facilitate the completion of 106 schools, with 14 additional schools targeted to be finished by 2023. The schools will help serve more than 50,000 students in Sindh whose schools were affected by the flood.

These new schools have been built with the inclusion of elements like laboratories and computers in order to turn them into templates for the kind of high-quality educational standard that can hopefully be provided to other areas in the country in the future.

The State of Pakistan’s Education System

Despite efforts, Pakistan’s education system still faces challenges. According to UNICEF, just 56% of Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 are currently in school. This means the country has more than 22 million children in this age range out of school, making Pakistan the country with the second-most out-of-school children in the world.

Additionally, significantly fewer children are enrolled in secondary school compared to primary school and significant gaps exist in overall schooling services. Socioeconomic gaps, for example, are prevalent in areas like Sindh where only 48% of the most impoverished children in the region are in school.

In other regions like Balochistan, significant gender gaps have emerged. Only 22% of girls are in school in the region. This reflects an overarching gender problem which can be seen in the disproportionate number of boys compared to girls in the education system as a whole.

Nevertheless, USAID’s newly completed schools as part of the Pakistani flood relief efforts represent the start of positive progress being made in the country’s education system. With each and every effort, Pakistani children are given an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disaster Aid in Paraguay
The landlocked Republic of Paraguay is prone to a wide range of natural disasters. Floods and droughts affect the most benighted areas of the country. Fortunately, both national and international agencies are taking action in aiding the local population, working through COVID-19 preventive measures that have delayed the arrival of natural disaster relief packages.

Natural Disasters in Paraguay

Paraguay experienced its worst floods in 2015 and 2019. Since then, the country has confronted subsequent natural disasters in the regions of Boquerón, Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay, with more than 2,400 families and 80,000 individuals affected. Even though Paraguay is one of the most humid countries in the region with a fairly high precipitation rate, climate oscillations have been destabilizing already vulnerable communities. As a country relying primarily on crops and cattle raising, fluctuations in climate and natural disasters can prove fatal for the rural population, not only putting the local economy at risk but also increasing the chances of infections through water-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.

As the South American country that has experienced the steepest exponential economic growth in the last thirty years, Paraguay has taken long strides to increase income per capita and reduce inequality. However, most of its economy is commodity-based, which makes it extremely sensitive to fluctuations in climate. Floods tend to be an especially dire calamity since they directly affect the agriculture, animal husbandry and hydroelectric energy industries.

Increasing Climate Resiliency

According to the World Bank, Paraguay ranks 95 out of 181 countries in the 2019 Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. This renders the country fairly vulnerable to climate catastrophe, primarily because of a lack of response and strategic planning. Climate indexes such as this one serve to acquire relevant diagnoses and eventually form sector-specific policies that can aid development outcomes.

It is necessary for the national government to take action to increase climate resiliency by adopting adaptation implementation efforts. Policymaking is crucial in this area, prioritizing investments for more efficient climate mitigation techniques in vulnerable rural areas.

A Four-Part Plan

The Paraguayan government has been taking action against these threats. The Ministry for National Emergencies (SEN) alongside the country’s National System of the Environment (SISAM) have devised a comprehensive plan to diminish natural disaster impact in Paraguay. The plan has been included in Paraguay’s Sustainable Development Goals for disaster risk reduction and consists of four parts:

  1. Understanding the extent of damage that natural disasters may cause. This includes encouraging research for preventive purposes and using ancestral indigenous techniques in farming to reduce the environmental impact that slash-and-burn techniques have on climate catastrophe.
  2. Increase governance in areas prone to natural disasters. The government is committed to creating laws related to aid in cases of floods and droughts, and beginning to build sound infrastructure to easily aid affected areas.
  3. Invest resources in building said infrastructures, such as roads and municipal buildings that can withstand harsh environmental conditions. This goal also expects to increase cooperation between national and regional authorities for quick aid relief.
  4. Ameliorate time of response by authorities and communities. This means not only investing in disaster-proof establishments but also empowering individuals and promoting universal access to reconstruction and rehabilitation.

International Assistance

In addition to the government, international aid organizations are also providing natural disaster relief to Paraguay. For example, USAID has been active in Paraguay since 2004, providing aid in the aftermath of 10 disasters. The World Bank has also been focused on helping Paraguay improve disaster preparedness. The organization has identified research gaps within Paraguay’s climate disaster response, including climate variability and water resources. Additionally, the World Bank has led economic-environmental feasibility studies, which are currently lacking. These efforts are all designed to ensure Paraguay has the resources necessary to overcome natural disasters.

Alongside conscientious data-gathering for the prevention of natural disasters and natural disaster relief, international assistance is crucial: it has not only proven helpful during calamitous environmental instances but also during a yellow fever outbreak, the subsequent seasonal dengue epidemic and COVID-19. Moving forward, USAID, the World Bank and other international organizations must continue to prioritize addressing natural disasters in Paraguay.

Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Water Scarcity in Mexico City
Mexico City is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere with about 22 million residents. Additionally, the city uses a lot of water. Mexico City draws on a vast sub-surface aquifer to supply water to millions of residents. Water scarcity in Mexico City continues to increase due to the aquifer shrinking every year.

The Problem

Water scarcity in Mexico City is surprising because the city should have plenty of water. In fact, the area receives more annual rainfall than London, leaving one to wonder where it all goes.

The answer to that question lies partly in Mexico City’s other water problem: flooding. The heavy rainfall that occurs every year during the wet season results in floods that stop traffic, damage buildings and cause sewage overflow. The city has created infrastructure to channel rainwater out of the area to prevent flooding. Furthermore, the existing infrastructure that pipes water is outdated and inefficient. Mexico loses about 40% of water due to leaky pipes. As the city expands and more concrete and asphalt cover the ground, less water will percolate through the soil into the aquifer. In short, as the city expands, the aquifer will get exponentially smaller.

Widespread shut-offs of city pipes are becoming more common due to the growing water scarcity. This disproportionately affects impoverished areas of the city. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem and has made the already unreliable water distribution trucks even harder to find for thousands of residents.

Isla Urbana

The nonprofit organization Isla Urbana teamed up with Mexico City’s government regarding the rollout of a rainwater catching system. This system promotes sustainable, reliable water access in areas outside of the city’s central hydraulic network. Additionally, this system goes on the roof and costs around $750. Furthermore, it catches and filters rainwater for use in bathing and household chores. Carbon filters can provide potable water. Additionally, Isla Urbana’s system is capable of supplying households with 40% of their annual water usage.

However, rain-catching systems have the obvious shortcoming of requiring rain to function. Mexico City does receive heavy rainfall. Yet, the city receives rainfall in only a few, select months. It also experiences a few large storms.

Ecoducto

The Mexico City planners decided to bury the area’s biggest river under concrete to make room for more buildings. Since then, the now underground river has become contaminated with waste from the city and is unusable without filtration. Thus, Ecoducto is one project that aims to use natural vegetation to filter the river’s water for public use by uncovering the river. Ecoducto is a 1.6 km long linear, living park above the Rio Piedad that also functions as a completely natural filtration system.

Furthermore, it takes water from the Rio Piedad and removes up to 99% of the bacterial content in the river. Ecoducto removes E. Coli from up to 30,000 cubic meters of water per day. Fortunately, Ecoducto costs much less to build and maintain than more expensive, fossil-fuel-reliant treatment plants. Furthermore, it currently operates at a fraction of the scale that the entire Rio Piedad could if it were daylight.

Both proposed solutions to combat water scarcity in Mexico City are in their early stages. In addition, the government’s promotion of both points to an initiative that improves water quality and access. As the weather becomes increasingly unreliable due to environmental challenges, solutions such as Isla Urbana’s rain-catching systems and the Ecoducto represent the future for sustainable and affordable resource use.

– Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Malawi
In March 2019, Cyclone Idai submerged vast regions of Southern Malawi, displacing 86,980 people. Local fishermen in dugout canoes found families stranded in tree branches and brought them to the displacement camps that UNICEF built. Communities escaped the flooding in Malawi because UNICEF and the local population worked together tirelessly.

Paddling to Safety

Heavy rain and strong winds led to dangerous flooding in Malawi, resulting in the worst natural disaster in Southern Africa in 20 years. In just a few days, fishermen brought tens of thousands of people to safe, dry land. Once the floods came, one fisherman (a watchman at a port in Nsanje) paddled across a cyclone-induced lake and helped people who were stuck along the way. He found people stranded in trees or rooftops who were hungry and injured. Many of them lived in branches for days because the floods suddenly engulfed their farmland and village. He charged $1.37 per person but allowed people to ride for free if they could not afford the price.

When Maria’s village became inundated, she lived in a tree for several days with her child and five chickens. Finally, she saw a canoe on the horizon, and a fisherman came to offer his services. Maria could not save her belongings in the flood so she used all she had left, her chickens, to pay for the ride. Onshore, they traveled to a temporary shelter in Khungu Bwe Camp, one of 187 camps in Malawi where UNICEF helped those displaced by the cyclone.

UNICEF Displacement Camps

Children are at risk of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhea if they do not have sanitation and hygiene services. In the camps, UNICEF built temporary toilets, filtered the water supply and hired local actors to educate residents on hygiene, health and sanitation. One cast in Malawi performed a comedy skit about the dangers of open defecation for several hundred people. Through skits and community radios, UNICEF sent information about hygiene, especially cholera prevention, to 600,000 Malawians.

Updates

Fortunately, Malawians are returning home or resettling into safer areas. However, women and girls face additional challenges after the storm because their unpaid labor typically includes collecting clean water. Water points and sanitation facilities are farther away, which increases their commute and risk of gender-based violence. Additionally, women are extremely unlikely to legally own land, so they struggle to reclaim their farmland when they come home.

In Malawi, UNICEF holds “children’s corners” which foster children’s psychological support, play and recreation in the aftermath of traumatic events. By May 2019, 10,000 children participated each week.

The death toll in Malawi, 60 people, has decreased from the 2015 Cyclone Bansi death toll which almost hit 200. This reduction is due to lessons Malawians learned from the last cyclone and meticulous preparations for another disaster. UNICEF stockpiled supplies in flood-prone areas so it could relocate people faster than before. Most importantly, it involved the local community, creating a more efficient and knowledgeable response team. Cyclone Idai caused insufferable flooding in Malawi but it was no match for a team of local fishermen and humanitarian workers.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Flood-Tolerant Rice BenefitsRice farming and production impacts the lives of millions throughout the world. Rice is the staple food of three billion people globally and a source of income for many. The farming of rice also contributes significantly to the economic growth of many countries. Especially within developing countries, the success of rice production is crucial for feeding individuals and creating economic stability. Flood-tolerant rice benefits developing countries reliant upon rice for livelihoods, food security, and the economy’s stability.

Environmental Challenges Affect Rice Production in India

Recent changes in the climate have caused rice production volatility due to flooding and drought. As many as 4.8 million people in India are exposed to river flood risks each year. In India, environmental challenges have had an especially negative effect on rice crops as floods have overtaken many viable planting areas. This flooding has disproportionately affected low-income farmers. These farmers often work with less reliable plots of land that are more prone to flooding. Without the development of techniques to help combat extreme weather, both the livelihoods of low-income people within India and the general Indian economy will experience a significant socio-economic impact.

Swarna Sub-1 Rice

A strain of flood-tolerant rice called Swarna Sub-1 has been a major development that addresses crop damage due to flooding in India. As a mixture of two different rice varieties, this scientifically developed plant is able to withstand intense flooding. This type of rice has been on the market for use since around 2009; however, many farmers have not had access to the rice strain until recently. This is largely due to the lack of information about the existence of Swarna Sub-1 and a lack of accessibility to it.

Flood-Tolerant Rice Benefits

The introduction of flood-tolerant rice has allowed for an increase in rice production, as J-PAL studies have shown. J-PAL is an organization that researches innovative solutions to global poverty. The increased rice production throughout India has had an incredibly positive effect, both economically and socially, as there is a larger supply of rice boosting local economies. As impoverished farmers have seen more successful rice harvests, they have been keener to cultivate a greater amount of farmland and make riskier agricultural decisions. Farmers have also invested in fertilizers to further increase crop health as they are more sure of their ability to create a solid income through rice farming. Additionally, precautionary rice savings decreased, suggesting farmers have perceived lower risk of crop losses with the flood-tolerant rice.

Swarna Sub-1 seeds increased rice yields by about 10% over the course of two years, as seen in the study. Researchers stated that the productive behavior changes among farmers who planted Swarna Sub-1 accounted for 41% of the long-term increase in rice yields. The higher yields also increased the income of farmers by roughly $47 per hectare.

The Potential of Flood-Tolerant Rice

These flood-tolerant rice benefits have improved the livelihoods of impoverished farmers in India while also contributing to food security and local economies. Increased access to flood-tolerant rice varieties in developing countries has the potential to improve lives and lift people out of poverty.

– Olivia Bay 
Photo: Flickr

floods in southeast asiaTraditionally, the people of Southeast Asia benefitted from small floods that enriched the soil and prevented bigger floods. However, human interference with the rivers has disrupted their natural ecological processes and increased long-term damage. The disruption of crops, destruction of land and the displacement of people due to flooding increases poverty, especially during Southeast Asia’s current economic crisis. Mitigating steps are necessary to prevent the harmful effects of floods in Southeast Asia.

Destructive Floods in Vietnam

In October 2020, heavy rains in Vietnam caused massive flooding that destroyed homes, land and agriculture. A massive 178,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 700,000 livestock fell victim to the floodwaters.

Described by the president of the Vietnam Red Cross Society as “some of the worst we’ve seen in decades”, the floods in Vietnam have affected around five million Vietnamese people, which will push more people toward poverty.

Urban Flooding in Cambodia

In Cambodia, cities such as Phnom Penh suffer from the effects of urban flooding. Urban flooding is unpredictable and has wide-ranging consequences, from the disruption of everyday life to the spreading of waterborne diseases. As is commonly associated with climate change, the poor are hurt the most by urban flooding, for their ability to prepare and recover from damages is significantly weaker than other classes.

Roughly 250,000 people living in Phnom Penh are living in informal settlements and deal with inadequate waste management and infrastructure. Stagnant bacteria-ridden water from floods can linger for eight months after floods, spreading a host of waterborne diseases to those in proximity. Furthermore, as the economy is projected to decrease by 4% in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, poor people are increasingly likely to be trapped in cyclical poverty.

COVID-19 Stalls Decades of Growth

Despite decades of deadly civil war, Cambodia has made consistent progress towards reducing poverty before COVID-19. Over the past two decades, life expectancy has increased 10 years, poverty has been reduced from 47% to 13%, and growth in the country averaged out to 8%.  Additionally, the country lowered infant mortality rates from 10% to 2%.

While Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases are very low, with zero deaths thus far, the contraction of the global economic market has led to financial struggles for its citizens. The poverty rate is expected to balloon back up to 20% as a result of the economic crisis. The sectors hit hardest include the tourism and garment industries, where demand from its Western consumer base has drastically fallen.

Measures Against Floods in Southeast Asia

Although the nature of monsoons is unpredictable, the extent of the damage and destruction of floods can be mitigated. One recommendation is for Southeast Asian nations to commit to curbing emissions in order to combat climate change, which can increase the volatility of weather. Climate change reduces the ability for scientists to estimate long-term trends and build dams to control flood levels.

Additionally, the concept of leaving room for the river has become popular. This concept essentially promotes soft engineering, or removing human technology from rivers and allowing their ecological processes to be carried out naturally. Furthermore, allowing and managing small floods can benefit the land and those cultivating it while preventing big floods.

Though natural disasters cannot be controlled, efforts from organizations and governments may help the country’s resilience in the aftermath of floods in Southeast Asia. Such efforts can provide instant relief to affected people and may also help to alleviate overall poverty in the countries.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr