A virus stalled the world and now global climate change is tossing it around. Deadly deluges have upended life in both China and Germany, along with parts of India, a stark reminder of worsening climate change across the planet.
At least 25 people in the central Chinese province of Henan died on Tuesday, including a dozen trapped in a city subway as waters tore through the regional capital of Zhengzhou after days of torrential rain.
Floods also killed at least 160 people in Germany and another 31 in Belgium last week.
In Europe, climate change is likely to increase the number of large, slow-moving storms that can linger longer in one area and deliver deluges of the kind seen in Germany and Belgium, according to a study published June 30 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
As the atmosphere warms with climate change, it also holds more moisture, which means that when rainclouds break, more rain is released. By the end of the century, such storms could be 14 times more frequent, the researchers found in the study using computer simulations.
While the inundation that devastated wide swathes of western and southern Germany occurred thousands of kilometres from the events in Henan, both cases highlighted the vulnerability of heavily populated areas to catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters.
Reinforcing dikes and climate-proofing housing, roads and urban infrastructure will cost billions. But the dramatic mobile phone footage of people struggling through subways submerged in chest-deep water in Zhengzhou or crying in fear as mud and debris swept through medieval German towns made clear the cost of doing nothing.
Koh Tieh-Yong, a weather and climate scientist at Singapore University of Social Sciences, said an overall assessment of rivers and water systems would be needed in areas vulnerable to climate change, including cities and farmlands.
“Floods usually occur due to two factors combined: one, heavier-than-normal rainfall and two, insufficient capacity of rivers to discharge the additional rainwater collected,” he said.
In both China and northwestern Europe, the disasters followed a period of unusually heavy rain, equivalent in the Chinese case to a year’s rainfall being dumped in just three days, that completely overwhelmed flood defences.
After several severe floods over recent decades, buffers had been strengthened along major German rivers like the Rhine or the Elbe but last week’s extreme rainfall also turned minor tributaries like the Ahr or the Swist into fearsome torrents.
In China, built-up urban areas with inadequate water evacuation and large dams that modified the natural discharge of the Yellow River basin may also have contributed to the disaster, scientists said.
But measures such as improving the resilience of buildings and raising riverbanks and improving drainage are unlikely to be enough on their own to avert the effects of severe flooding. As a last resort, warning systems, which were heavily criticized in Germany for leaving people insufficient time to react, will have to be improved.
Meanwhile, at least 134 people died suddenly last month in Canada’s Vancouver area, according to figures released by the city police department and the Royal Canadian Mounted police. The Vancouver Police Department alone said it had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths, with the vast majority “related to the heat.”
Dubai also had to conjure up rainfall for itself. Using a new method of cloud seeding in which they charge clouds with electricity, this city in the United Arab Emirates found some respite after battling temperatures over 50 degree Celsius. Cloud seeding has been around for some time now and has been employed in India on multiple occasions to mitigate drought.