The Changing Face of Reindeer Herding

This loosely fits into the Cold Environment and climatic hazards topics of the current A Level, plus the Place topic in the new A Level. If you happen to be Sami yourself.

Longreads

Mr Ingold wrote about the importance of the word talo. Roughly translated, it means house. But it also has a deeper meaning. When Finnish herders are raised in a talo, it is not simply that they grow up in one place. “A house,” explains Mr Ingold, “is a total establishment, an organic unity of place and people, cumulatively built up through the work of generations.” It is not something that can be shaken off. When Aarne says that herders are “born” to do it he is not being flippant. Like his father, he feels he had little choice. Nor does he regret that. Raisa explains that “this is what we want to do. There’s a richness to this wild way of life.”

That remains true even as threats from climate change, logging and other signs of expanding human footprints impinge on their vast emptiness. But throughout the centuries…

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Zhouqu County Mudslides

On the 8th August 2010, a mudslide occured in Zhouqu county, in southern Gansu province (Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in the PRC. The mudslide was 5km long and 300m wide, and up to 5m thick in places.

Causes

The mudslide was caused by a variety of factors, human and physical.

Forests around Zhouqu had been cut down for mining and agriculture which lead to soil erosion and destabilisation of the slopes, as roots were no longer holding the soil together and trees could no longer absorb water from the soil, leading to faster soil water saturation.  Despite the logging ban in 1998, trees continued to be felled. In the PRC, there had been 53 hydroelectric construction projects in recent years, with 12 just within Gansu province, where Zhouqu county is located. The dams have caused 750,000 tonnes of water and soil erosion and over 3 million cubic tonnes of bulldozed material, throughout the country. This has left the slopes weak and exposed to rainfall, allowing slides to occur more readily.

Oscillations between the patterns of El Nino and La Nina (climatic events where air currents across the Pacific Ocean change, effecting the local weather systems among dozens of countries) caused unusually intense monsoon rains in 2010.  Regions were receiving an extra 24 mm of rain above the normal daily rainfall. In ‘the largest downpour for a century’ 96 mm of rain fell in just one hour in the area.  The earthquake in Sichuan two years previously created cracks in the rock face and destabilised the ground; Zhouqu county is very close to Sichaun province, so instabilities within Sichaun can very easily effect towns within Gansu, directly to the North. The 9-month drought which preceded the heavy rain had added to the weakness and instability of the soil, especially when followed by the heavy rainfall.

Impacts

Social Impacts:

  • 1,471 people died due to the slide.
  • 1,200 people had to be rescued from the debris.
  • 300 people were never found, and are presumed dead.
  • 1,700 people who were evacuated from the immediate area were forced to live in schools. In total 45,000 people in Zhouqu county were evacuated.
  • Medical care in the region was disrupted as 10 doctors from the Zhouqu People’s Hospital were among the missing.

Economic Impacts:

  • 66% of the county went without power, disrupting local businesses and transport.
  • More than $40 billion worth of damage was caused in Gansu.
  • Power lines were down in 2/3 of the county which had to be repaired. Wider infrastructure was destroyed at great cost.
  • Mudslides throughout China in 2010 destroyed 8.76 million hectares of crops to be destroyed.
  •  The livelihoods of millions of people were entirely destroyed or otherwise decimated and China’s capacity to export was massively reduced.

Environmental Impacts:

  • 300 buildings were buried under mud.
  • A 3km temporary lake formed behind a blockage when the mudslide reached the local river at the base of the city of Zhouqu where the slide occured. This dam later burst causing further damage.
  • The river was clogged with debris, damaging habitats and reducing biodiversity.

Management 

  • 7,000 soldiers, firefighters and medical staff were deployed by the government. 20 speed boats and 4 helicopters were also mobilised.
  • Gansu province received 120 million yuan ($17.7 million) by August 13th 2010.
  • The PRC government promised local families $1,182 worth of financial aid for each victim lost.
  • Tents, food and medical supplies were rushed to the stricken area but the remote mountainous location made access difficult.
  • The governmentpromised to help rebuild homes and buildings in the affected area.
  • A National Day of mourning was observed to help with the emotional trauma.

Campania Mudslides, Italy – 1998

On the 5th May 1998, a mudslide hit Campania in Southern Italy.

The region was very hard hit by the area, and many individual towns were at high risk; Sarno and Quindici being two of the most effected. The area has the highest mudslide rate in Italy, with more than 631 since 1918. One such earthquake was in 1980, when nearly 3,000 people in Campania were killed in a single event. 65% of Italy in deemed at risk from landslides.

There were at least 17 slides during the event.

Causes

”Everything is to blame — It’s nature, it’s the authorities, and it’s also us, the citizens”–  Francesco Fligente, a local bus driver. ‘The mountain has been burned systematically” –Andrea Giordani, land surveyor. “[The mudslide was] not a natural calamity but a disaster caused by decades of ransacking the land and sprawling construction.” – WWF

The town had been hit by torrential rains beforehand, which remained ongoing during rescue attempts. The area is made of sedimentary rocks, which are predicted to eventually crumble into the nearby Tyrrheanian Sea, as the soil is very fragile and prone to erosion. This was not helped by local deforestation and a habit of burning patches of ground to achieve this, or by structural work that weakened slope integrity further. Removal of chestnut trees has an especially large effect, as these trees’ large root systems hold soil very firmly together.

The government received criticism for not declaring a state of emergency in the region on the 3rd, and not giving evacuation notice, when geologists first came to believe that slides were about to occur.

Campania is a centre for illegal housing projects, with 20% of Italy’s illegal construction, according to environmental watchdogs. Farmers regularly burned down local plantlife to make room for crops and livestock. Environmental law was regularly not enforced, or even just entirely ignored. Regional officials blamed central government for not giving enough funding to properly maintain the laws.  Meanwhile, the central government blamed the Mafia for the apathy towards environmental laws, and that they were benefiting from the poor regulations.

Geologists were regularly warning about the dangers of building while ignoring regulations in a risk prone zone.

Many homes in the area were built in very land-slide-prone sites, or too close to rivers. 24% of the area is deemed “at risk” land.

Many of the demolished buildings were poorly built out of concrete, and did not have proper foundations.

Impacts

The first news of the start of the event was the Sarno mayor calling up Civil Protection Authorities asking for help to cope with a torrent of debris approaching the city.

At least 147 people died, with about 100 of them from  just the town of Sarno. 1,000 people were left homeless. More than a dozen of the deaths were children. About 5,000 people lived in Sarno. Mud deposits were up to 13 feet deep. The Sarno hospital- Villa Marta- was entirely decimated, with 6 members of hospital staff killed. Workers carried 60 patients outside, and had they not, many more would have died; building of a new hospital outside the worst risk zone had been planned, but government budgeting to allow EU entry slowed this down- the unfinished new hospital was completely undamaged.

A whole public school was also destroyed, trapping many teachers and pupils inside. Many other buildings were also destroyed. Rivers became clogged up with mud up to 2m deep, and 1,5000 people lost all their posessions.

Whole swaths of greenery on the mountain slopes were flattened.

The  most effeceted towns were: Irpine, Salernitano, Sarno, Quindici. Episcopio, Taurano and Bracigliano, but over 230 were impacted.

The most dangerous areas were inhabited by the poorest civilians, who are the most hard hit, as they cannot pay effectively for future accomodation or relocation.

Response

Rescuers from Civil Protection arrived only a few hours after the initial plea was given, at night time. This timing hindered rescue work, as it was too dark to start any serious rescue work and helicopters to help would be unsafe to pilot. The government vastly underestimated the event’s scale, too, and initially only sent a few earth-moving vehicles, that became stuck themselves. By the 6th, volunteers had resorted to digging with their bare hands.

A funeral was held on the 11th May 1998 for the dead in a football field locally, with rescue workers contributing to the ceremony.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi pledged $30 million in relief and reconstruction on the Friday, 4 days after the event.Previous aid efforts had been largely cut down from what was pledged however, due to concerns that over spending would prevent their entry into the European Union. The government even cut funding to the Centre of Geological Studies, so that thousands of geology graduates and scientists were unemployed.

President Scalfaro said that they should focus on reconstruction and aid efforts before trying to find a guilty party. International trips by government officials were cut short in order to stand with the Italian populus and help organise repairations.

4,000 firefighters, troops, forest rangers and medical workers including 80 US marines based in Naples aided the rescues. 5 schools were converted into emergency shelters. Just one of these schools, Edmonde de Amiciis Elementary School housed 260 survivors.

Philippines mudslide 2006

On 17th February 2006, a mudslide hit the village of Guinsagon in southern Leyte province in the Philippines. The slide covered 9km^2, was 3km wide and in places 30m thick. Half a mountain collapsed on the single village. .

Causes

The main cause of the mudslide was a La Ninya event in the Western Pacific. 200cm of rainfall fell in 10 days, weakening the slope strength. Slopes in the region are mostly very steep and mass movement and mudslides occur frequently.

Widespread deforestation during the past 70 years have also increased slope instability. The slide was ultimately triggered by a small local earthquake of magnitude 2.6Mw.

Exposure in that area of the Philippines is high. In 1991, 5,000 people were killed when typhoons triggered landslides, and a similar event in 2003 killed 133 people. Mudslides and landslides are a constant threat due to:

  • heavy and prolonged rainfall from typhoons
  • Steep hillsides largely built of weathered volcanic rock
  • Extensive faulting and earthquake activity

Many villages are located at the base of steep slopes in the direct path of mudslides, and rural populations are high. The people are very poor and have high population growth. Southern Leyte is one of the poorest areas of the Philippines. Between 1995 and 2000 the population grew by +2.73%, placing pressure on environmental resources.

Logging bans have not been enforced by the government, largely due to political corruption. Even where sustainable logging has been practiced, in many places trees with shallow roots have replaced trees with deep roots, and thus made the slopes far less stable.

Impacts

Survivors described how a “wall of mud” descended on the village, killing over 1,000 people, including 246 children at a primary school. Almost every one of the 300 homes was destroyed. The slide killed thousands of livestock and buried the farmland; around 16,000 people were affected.

Response

Hazard mitigation maps have been made of Southern Leyte, but are not very detailed, so that villages that will be effected by mudslides cannot be identified. Following heavy rains and the deaths of 20 people in a nearby village, warnings were issued between the 4th and 17th of February, and several hillside villages were evacuated. However, many people chose not to leave.

Evacuation centres were set up around St Bernard, the capital of the region. Emergency aid in these centres provided safe drinking water, sanitation and health services. The region is very poor, however, so they cannot afford communications, which slowed down response times. Two hundred rescue workers were brought into the site. Unlike earthquakes, mass movements have few survivors.

International aid was provided by the Red Cross and Red Cresent, and their appeal raised US$1.6 million.

The government has commissioned a US$1.5 million geohazards survey and mapping of Leyte to try to prevent future similar disasters.

Bangladesh- Flooding

Most of the land in Bangladesh forms a delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers.

Living in the delta area is advantageous as the soil is extremely fertile. The sediment is rich in alluvial deposits due to the rivers. The coastal areas are also used for shrimp farming.

There are over 900 people per km^2 in Bangladesh.

Causes of flooding

  • Monsoon rainfall- 75% of annual total
  • Deforestation of the Himalayas for housing in Tibet, India and Nepal has reduced interception and removal of moisture
  • Convergence of the three rivers
  • Meltwater from the Himalayas
  • Cyclones from the Bay of Bengal
  • 70% of the delta and floodplain are less than 1 m above sea level
  • Cutting down trees along the shoreline to make space for more shrimp farms.
  • The country is in large debts so much of its money has to be spent paying off debt rather than building defenses. There is insufficient funding for any major schemes. Other countries are also not investing to help the situation.
  • Lack of international investment- very few companies see profit in Bangladesh, so do not spend money and help improve the economy or the flood defences of anywhere in the country.
  • Overseas pressure means that the Bangladeshi Government is being encouraged to build up big industries before flood defences.
  • Governmental corruption has meant money intended for flood defences has never been used for that.
  • Poor communications. Many do not have internet access or a phone, so there is no access to flood warnings for them.
  • Ganges and Brahmaptra rivers have a 1.75 million km^2 drainage basin, ending in Bangladesh.
  • There is deforestation in the Himalayas meaning more water is reaching the rivers into Bangladesh due to a reduction in interception.
  • River diversion- the Ganges has been diverted for irregation, when has stopped its supply of river sediment, which means Bangladesh is effectively sinking.
  • Fresh water wells- in the 1980s, more than 100,000 tube wells and 20,000 deep wells were sunk into the delta to provide drinking water. The wells have reduced water tables and added to subsidence at 2.5cm per year.

Protection attempts

  • Flood Action Plan funded by the World Bank runs projects to monitor flood risks
  • Levees and embankments have been constructed to increase the capacity of the delta
  • Some buildings are built on stilts to reduce the impact of flooding upon them

1998 floods

  • 66% of the country submerged by water
  • Capital- Dhaka- was cut off
  • 23 million homeless
  • 130,000 cattle lost
  • 660,000 hectares of crops damaged
  • Entire national rice stock destroyed
  • Almost 25% of children under 5 were malnourished and widespread starvation was forecast
  • Dhaka sewage system collapsed
  • Drinking water supply was contaminated
  • Diarrhea and dysentery outbreaks occurred
  • Incomes of the 2 largest companies decreased by 20%
  • The textile industry employs over 1.5 million people, mostly in low-lying areas. After the floods, 400 factories had to close, leaving 166,000 workers (130,000 of whom were women, so unlikely to find work as easily) unemployed.
  • 11,000 km of road were damaged
  • 1,000 schools were destroyed- students lost all their books.
  • Bangladeshi Government had to buy 350,000 tons of cereals from Asian countries, and another million were provided.

2007 floods

Causes

  • The monsoons came after a long, dry summer
  • Heavy rainfall- some regions received 169.5 mm in 24 hours
  • Growth of urban areas around the delta
  • Deforestation in the Himalayas
  • Peak discharge of the three rivers hit Bangladesh simultaneously.

Impacts

  • 2000 people died
  • There was a lack of clean drinking water as wells became contaminated- 100,000 people contracted water born diseases
  • 25 million made homeless
  • 112,000 homes destroyed
  • 4,000 schools damaged
  • 44 schools destroyed
  • Flooding cost US$1 x 10^9 to repair
  • Factories around the delta were forced to shut and workers became unemployed
  • Widespread loss of cattle- 80% of the population rely on agriculture for income
  • 550,000 hectares of land could not be planted on. The worldwide price of rice rose by about 10%
  • Debt increased for individuals and the country. People lost jobs and the government was forced to import good and medicine, etc.

(Image Sources: http://practicalaction.org/case-study-bangladesh-floods  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1559149/Bangladesh-floods-kill-at-least-40.html https://www.happytellus.com/bangladesh)