Do you now of the different classifications of natural hazards? Well, there are five different classes namely: hydrological (floods, landslides, wave actions), meteorological (storms, fog, extreme temperatures), climatological (drought, wildfires, glacial lakes outburst) and geophysical (earthquakes, volcanic activities, mass movements).
For the past few years, there has been an increase in the amount of wildfires and its severity. So why is this happening and should we be concerned by the forecasts from the weather man?
For a wildfire to start, three essential conditions (known as the fire triangle) are needed: fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source. Incidents of rainfall anomalies that intensify drought in tropical and subtropical regions, El Niño events, and increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves can be associated with wildfires. Studies further show that wildfire season are starting much earlier and ending later because of a warming.
Simultaneously, there has been an increase in deliberate setting of fires to convert tropical forest to open lands for agriculture, cattle ranches, and lands for real-estate. This has been a significant contributor to climate change. There is a global concern of forest resilience and the potential effects of increased disturbance activity, warming temperatures and increased moisture stress on plants. Studies have highlighted a significant decrease in tree regeneration in the 21st century. Annual moisture deficits were significantly greater from 2000 to 2015 as compared to 1985–1999, suggesting increasingly unfavourable post-fire growing conditions, corresponding to significantly lower seedling densities and increased regeneration failure.
In a report by the European space agency, almost 4 million square kilometres of earth land gets destroyed by fires. This means that an area larger then India and almost four times the size of Nigeria burns yearly. In the event of a wildfire, a significant number of plant, tree and animal species get destroyed in the process. In addition to this, lots of smoke is generated leading to massive air pollution and emission of greenhouse gasses.
Human activities have also contributed to almost 50% of all cases of wildfires. Between the periods of 2000 to 2017 around 6.2 million people were reported to be directly affected by wildfires alone. As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted in 2015, 17 goals were highlighted in order to achieve the 15-year plan. This was a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. A breakdown of economic losses indicates that almost US$ 61 billion has been spent in losses associated with wildfires.
With the uneven impacts of climate change by region, we have learnt that countries from the global south are highly affected by climate related hazards. On the other hand, there is an inequality in resource distribution when it comes to climate mitigation. Africa and Asia account for almost 92% of relative human and economic costs from climate-related disasters by continents. These are followed by the Americas with 7% and the rest is shared by Europe and Oceania.
A case study done in southern Africa between 2015 and 2016 indicated that 70% of the region depends on agriculture for food, home and employment. Agriculture also accounted for between 4 to 27 percent of GDP. This also includes a 13% from overall exports. With the impacts of wildfire and other climate related hazards, the threat of food security has become recurrent problem that African countries and governments have to deal with. In developing countries, the fires have begun spreading towards urban areas. High income and upper-middle income countries account for 91% of climate-related economic losses.
In a bid to increase awareness and disaster preparedness, The World Conference on Disaster Reduction came up with a Framework for Action 2005-2015. This was known as the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The Conference provided a unique opportunity to promote a strategic and systematic approach to reducing vulnerabilities and risks to hazards. It underscored the need for, and identified ways of, building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. This was then followed by The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015.
The Framework was founded seven global targets. These include the reduction of disaster risk as an expected outcome, a goal focused on preventing new risk, reducing existing risk and strengthening resilience, as well as a set of guiding principles, including primary responsibility of states to prevent and reduce disaster risk, all-of-society and all-of-State institutions engagement. In addition, the scope of disaster risk reduction has been broadened significantly to focus on both natural and man-made hazards and related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks. Health resilience is strongly promoted throughout.
It is also clear that the economic losses suffered by low and lower-middle income countries have crippling consequences for their future development and undermine the efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the eradication of poverty. There is a deeper understanding today than ever before of the underlying factors which drive up the likelihood of a future disaster event. More and more countries are moving to put in place national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction. This has placed the regions in line with target of the Sendai Framework.
As much as academicians and climate activists have tried to create awareness on global trends in weather patterns, it is our sole responsibility to put this into action. Collective actions and responsibility should be the next step towards reducing the adverse effects of climate change. Take a look around you and ask yourself what you have done for the environment today.
Yusuf Esmail Abdallah
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Stevens-Rumann, C. S., Kerry B. Kemp, Philip E. Higuera, Brian J. Harvey, Monica T. Rother, Daniel C. Donato, . . . Thomas T. Veblen. (2017). Evidence for declining forest resilience to wildfires under climate change. Ecology Letters,, 1-8.
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