National Sections of the L5I:

Global floods crisis confirms climate catastrophe

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Record levels of rainfall have caused devastation in a series of heavily urbanised areas in countries in the southern hemisphere.

Floods have killed hundreds and displaced millions in Australia, Sri Lanka, Brazil and the Philippines. South Africa too has experienced heavy rainfall and flooding.

The UN reports that in Sri Lanka nearly 390,000 remain homeless and 3,744 houses have been totally destroyed. Sri Lanka's hardest-hit area, around the eastern port of Batticaloa, has had more rain in the past two weeks than its entire annual average.

The floods have hit 11 of the country's 25 districts, ruining crops, damaging irrigation systems, and leaving at least 40 people dead. Expansive areas dedicated to rice paddies have been destroyed and more than a fifth of the country's staple rice crop, ready to be harvested, has gone too.

After the huge floods in Queensland that submerged Brisbane, torrential rain hit other Australian states. More than 3,500 people have evacuated their homes in Victoria in the south.

In Brazil the death toll from floods and mudslides is now estimated to be more than 600. In a 24-hour period between 11 and 12 January 2011, the weather service registered more rainfall than what is expected for the entire month. Devastation has been most severe in cities areas such as Teresópolis, Petropolis and Sumidouro cities. The floods have caused at least 269 deaths in Teresópolis alone. Huge mudslides have caused most of the fatalities, where torrential rain sent mud and boulders smashing through communities in the mountain valleys outside Rio de Janeiro.

On 12 January torrential rains that caused flooding and triggered landslides in the Philippines have killed 42 and 400,000 are homeless according to the government's disaster agency.

One third of the Philippines' 80 provinces have been affected by heavy rains and flooding, seriously damaging the country's crops and ruining infrastructure. It's estimated that there's more than 1 billion pesos (23 million US dollars) worth of damage.

Climate crisis
Though these are “natural events” (“acts of God” in the quaint language of insurance), today there are important questions that have to asked about the severity and frequency of these occurrences.

Each extreme weather event has local and contingent reasons. But their destructiveness in terms of loss of life, crops, infrastructure, depends heavily on socio-economic factors.

Shantytowns built on mountainsides or river alley bottoms, as in Brazil are particularly vulnerable to catastrophic mudslides. The social reasons – essentially poverty that drives poor people to these locations and into such appalling inadequate shelters – are ones of class exploitation and oppression. Even in the advanced capitalist countries socio-economic development has an impact; the building of homes on floodplains in Australia for example is related to real estate costs and the drive for profit.

But beyond the local and episodic causes a global question arises from the increasing pattern of extreme weather events. Last year in China many major rivers, including the Yangtze, Yellow and Songhua Rivers witnessed flooding. In fact floods affected 28 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. Between early May and the end of August at least 3,185 people were killed whilst at least 15.2 million people had to be evacuated because of the risk of flooding and landslides

Then Pakistan floods began in July 2010 following extremely heavy monsoon rains in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Punjab, Balochistan and the Indus One fifth of Pakistan's total land area was underwater

The floods directly affected about 20 million people, mostly by destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure, with a death toll of around 2,000 people.

At the same time the there was a major summer heat wave which affected much of the United States parts of Canada, Russia and the European continent, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Taiwan, China, Indochina, North Africa South Korea and Japan during May, June, July and August 2010.

June 2010 marked the fourth consecutive warmest month on record globally, at 0.66 °C (1.22 °F) above average, while the period April-June was the warmest ever recorded for land areas in the Northern Hemisphere, at 1.25 °C (2.25 °F) above average.

Is climate change responsible?

Some climatologists say the event falls within the expected range of natural variability. It is true that weather throughout the southern hemisphere is affected by the periodic oscillation between warming (El Niño) and cooling (La Niña) of surface waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

But many scientists say that, while La Niña would have taken place, global warming is increasing its severity. The past months have seen one of the most intense La Niña events on record.

Evidence supporting that claim comes from the fact that the water temperatures off the northeast coast of Australia have never been higher since records began.

Rising sea temperatures, sudden changes in the circulation pattern of atmospheric currents redistribute the rainfall. High pressure reduces the normally heavy precipitation over the Pacific. Instead of falling on the sea the rain lands on continental land masses on the ocean margins.

Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Research Institute on Climate Effects (PIK) believes that “Extreme weather events are always a combination of the vagaries of weather and longer-term climate changes, in this case global warming. It's true that the frequency of extreme weather events has increased. A series of studies prove it... In 2010 we had the warmest year globally since the start of weather records, first equal with 2005.”

The World Meteorological Organization stated that the heat waves, droughts and flooding events confirm predictions derived from the model of 21st century global warming contained in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 4th Assessment.

The consequences of an increased series of extreme weather events will be, following hard on the immediate destruction to life, houses, infrastructure, and severe damage to food production. In a capitalist system this will lead to famine and rising prices. Today more than ever, it is becoming clearer and clearer the regressive impact that capitalist production has on the global ecosystem.

Events over the last decade or so since the world’s governments were compelled to recognise this, have shown that capitalism is a total obstacle to seriously tackling this problem. At a local level too it exacerbates the disasters – hitting the poor, the working class, the peasants, i.e. the majority of humanity – much harder. It proves that capitalism is a system of production that has outlived it progressive function and must be overthrown.