Emergent patterns in nature and society

Cost of natural disasters $109 billion in 2010: U.N. | Reuters

Natural disasters caused $109 billion in economic damage last year, three times more than in 2009, with Chile and China bearing most of the cost, the United Nations said Monday.

Earthquakes, landslides, floods, droughts, are costing a lot of money for different countries, not only in economic losses but also in rebuilding infrastructure or coping with the tragedy after the shock. However, the question is what of these shocks are manageable and what is not. Which ecosystem services are interacting with external shocks. What are the differences between what we can prevent and what we can only resign and manage?

Droughts, floods and landslides quite often pop up in my analysis of regime shifts. They seem to follow threshold like response to ecological processes like plants rooting deep, albedo and evapotranspiration or erosion. It seems to be manageable. It requires a deep understanding of vegetation dynamics, soil properties and climate variability.

There is, however, some social trends that seems to confer resistance to the managerial options. My country, Colombia, presented several floods during the last raining season, particularly strengthen by La Niña phenomenon. Nevertheless, there are floods every year in my country. Some ecosystems are adapted to receive great discharges of water coming from all over the country. Such is the case of wetlands and mangrove forest in the Caribbean plains. Decades of deforestation and land clearing have reduce the ability of soil and plants to retain water and when heavy rains come there is not enough resistance. Poor communities loss homes, cattle, crops; but they also gain the assistance of the state. In a poor country where being a farmer is not rentable enough, a catastrophe may become an opportunity. As stated by the new head of the scientific unit of the von Humbold Institute, Brigitte Baptiste, being “damnificado” becomes a profession.

In the short term, poor families receive an extra income, politicians make sure to assure some votes for the next poles, but the origin of the problem, what is still manageable is never addressed. Land clearing is even encouraged under agricultural development projects. It worth to explore what other social mechanism maintain ecological regimes.

Cost of natural disasters $109 billion in 2010: U.N. | Reuters.

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