Floods are not natural disasters; hence, humans should be able to counter them

Screenshot 72By Khin Maung Myint

In the old days, storms, floods and droughts are blamed on mother nature for causing them. They were called “natural disasters” or, in the legal aspect, they were even termed as “acts of God”. Those concepts or beliefs don’t apply today. People are starting to realize and most, except for some stubborn individuals, accept that they are the consequences of climate change, which are the results of human misdemeanors.
I had persistently written about the causes of the climate change in the past, where I had mentioned what climate change experts said about the subject and how people who are concerned about it are trying to rein in the deteriorating climate situations. At one point, I had thought that I had written enough and there is nothing more, nothing interesting enough to write more about that topic. I was totally wrong. The climate change is still a hot topic, providing many raw materials for a writer like me, who is obsessed with that subject.
This year’s monsoon had already brought much rainfalls in our region. Much rainfalls mean more incidents of flash floods and inundating, causing deaths and destructions. Lately, flash floods had caused a dam in Laos, which is still under construction, to burst, leading to catastrophic flooding. As many as over 300 people were killed and many places were inundated, causing damages to agricultural crops and destruction of homes and infrastructures, displacing thousands of people. The flood waters even reached Thailand and Cambodia in areas close to the Mekong River.
The northern and northeastern regions of Thailand, which are close to the Mekong, were hit by severe floods, as rainwaters reinforced the spilled waters from the failed Laotian dam. The results were severe inundating of agricultural lands, causing damages to crops, destruction of bridges and roads, and disrupting the traffic flows. Even the recent world-famous Thai cave incident was the result of heavy downpours.
Last, but not the least, to suffer the consequences of the floods is our country. Bago and Taninthayi regions, Kayin and Mon states were the hardest hit. According to official reports, at least 12 people have been killed and nearly a hundred and fifty thousand people were displaced by severe floods, brought on by torrential monsoon rains in recent days.
In the opening paragraph, I had bluntly claimed that such disasters are not natural, but man-made. Thus, I have the obligation to clarify that statement. As our country lies in the monsoon area, rains are abundant and floods are common, but in the past, they were not as dangerous or destructive as today. Rains and floods are natural since time immemorial. It can be said that in the old days, centuries ago, every evolution or development were the works of nature and nature alone is responsible for everything — good or bad.
However, to quote climate experts, since the industrial revolution in the 18th century, humans contributed much to the deterioration of the climate or, in other words, the climate change was caused by humans. Thus, it can be deduced that disasters caused by climate change, which is the outcome of humans’ misdemeanors, is the main culprit and hence, they are man-made and not natural disasters anymore.
Having said that, it would be necessary to describe how humans are responsible for the flash floods that ravaged our country these days. To visualize that, we need to look back a few decades. In the past, our country was famous for the dense lush green rain forests that produce some of the best timbers in the world. Those forests were properly conserved and managed since the days of our kings. During the colonial days, the forests were even more systematically maintained, extractions properly regulated and the forests were well protected from illegal loggers.
Those practices were still carried on after we became independent until about three decades ago. However, starting from around that time all the good practices were either ignored or those responsible were ignorant of them. There was almost no control in the extractions of timber, both legally and illegally. My guess is, illegal loggings and indiscriminately issued permits to extract timbers were too excessive that led to immense depletions of the forests
As trees are useful in retaining the earth from becoming loose and also absorb the rain waters, they serve as protection to the ground on which they stand. Without trees to retain the earth and to absorb the rain waters, landslides occur. These landslides cause the streams, creeks and rivers to become shallow due to the sediments brought down by them. When there were heavy rains, flash floods were caused and as the waterways were clogged with sediments and became shallow, their flood plains became wider. Thus towns and villages were easily inundated. Trees are also helpful in the control of climate change. They absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and reproduce oxygen, which helps to eradicate the greenhouse gases of which CO2 forms a major portion. Less greenhouse gases mean reduced global warming, which will, in turn, reduce the effects of the climate change.
This year, since the start of the monsoon season, we had been witnessing unprecedented flooding in many places, including the Shan State, where such scales of flooding were unheard of before. These are undeniable evidences that indicate the depletion of the forests are widespread. Thus, to avoid such disasters or to reduce their effects, reforestations should be extensively implemented and strict control of loggings should be enforced. Drastic actions should be taken on smugglers and corrupt officials who abetted in the illegal loggings and smugglings.
Some so-called environmentalists in our country are loudly blaming the government for not doing enough for the victims of the recent floods. The government is doing its best to mitigate disasters of any kind, but when they are widespread, as in recent cases, it may be difficult to efficiently cope with them. One enviromental activist went too far by likening the flood disaster to the Thai cave incident and said the Thai government treated those children trapped in the cave as human beings, while our government is not doing enough for flood victims. The two situations are not similar to one another, so comparing the two was just totally absurd. I wonder whether he is a true environmentalist or a political activist or an opportunist, who wants to exploit the situation for his own gains. The least he can gain is popularity by telling such ridiculous things to the foreign media. Also, ignored was the fact that the President of our country made an immediate visit to the flood-devastated areas and gave morale support to the devastated people, oversaw and gave guidance to the relief work being carried out. Such things were unheard of in the past or unprecedented.
I would like to urge the environmental activists, if they really care, to show with their actions, not words, because actions speak louder than words. They should educate the public how to divert those disasters from the environmental aspects, as they are supposed to be experts in such matters, instead of just putting the blame on the government. The least they can do is to lead the public to grow more trees and protect the existing trees in their areas from being illegally felled. As the floods are the consequences of human misdemeanors or, in other words, man-made disasters, humans should be able to counter.

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