Climate Change impacts: Floods and droughts

Climate change leads to increasing frequency of extreme weather events evident around the globe. Unusually high rain fall, which many scientists agree is due to climate change, is a significant cause of floods. On the other hand droughts are becoming longer, harder and more frequent.

Floods

Major floods that used to happen only once in 100 years now take place every 10 or 20 years. Flooding can be disastrous. Houses can be destroyed, lives can be ruined, and wildlife threatened.

Climate change is not the only cause of floods. Other ill-considered human activities play a key role as well. Upstream forests are able to soak up a lot of water, but if humans are destroying these areas, we increase the risk of floods.

Wetlands can act as sponges and soak up a lot of moisture, but they are often drained to make room for agriculture and development. By stopping deforestation and reforesting upstream areas, by halting wetland drainage and restoring damaged wetlands, we can significantly soften the impact of climate change on flooding.

But if more intense rainstorms hit a region because of climate change, there will simply be more water – and catastrophic floods will become regular events.
Flooding in East Dongting Lake, Yuyang City, Hunan Province, China. / ©: WWF-Canon / Yifei Zhang
Flooding in East Dongting Lake, Yuyang City, Hunan Province, China.
© WWF-Canon / Yifei Zhang

Of course I’m angry with the river. It has taken everything! But how can I beat the Ganges?

Tulsi Khara, WWF Climate Witness from Sundarbans delta, India

Droughts

Extreme droughts have become regular features:
  • We read about the prolonged drought in Australia which has continued for years with very few interruptions.
  • The unparalelled drought in the Amazon in 2005 caused massive grief for the population who depend on fisheries.
  • The heat wave in Europe in 2003 has cost up to almost 40,000 lives, in France alone 17,000 death were linked to it.
  • The Western United States continued their multi-year drought in 2005.
  • Massive droughts in southern and western Africa have been linked to climate change.

As the climate system changes in accordance to more CO2 we realise that by polluting our atmosphere we literally pull the carpet under our own feet.

Weather patterns that people were used to for hundreds and thousands of years are changing imperceptly – and they will not return to normal.

We can still prevent the worst – but we are already getting a preview on what that ‘worst’ would look like.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN
Severe droughts might double in South-Asia over the coming years.
© WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN

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