Posted July 4th 2010 at 11:00 am by
in Preparing for Disaster in Laos, Thailand & Vietnam

Preparing for Disaster in The Face of Climate Change

Due to lack of rain during the rainy season this year, farmers in Laos are unable to plant their rice. Photo by Shoko Takemoto.

This summer, I am working at the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) in Bangkok to examine the relationship between disaster preparedness and climate change, and find ways to increase local capacity for disaster management in face of climate change.

There is a direct link between disaster and climate change; climate change can, if it has not already, increase the frequency, intensity, and variety of natural disasters.  Several strategies are initiated at the international, national, sub-national, and community levels to prepare for natural disasters.  In Southeast Asia, where natural disasters such as flood, windstorm, and drought are common occurrences and often a significant hindrance to development, increasing the capacity to cope with disasters is a top priority for economic and social wellbeing of the population.

For example, in Thailand, each province, district, and village develops its own disaster management calendar where they indicate when the high flood risk periods are, and when they need to do what in order to prepare for the potential risks of flood.  According to this calendar, in Northern Thailand, the flood season used to be from July to October.  However, for the past two years, they did not have any flood during these months.  Is this due to “climate change”?  Maybe it is, or maybe not.  Nevertheless, in order to increase the resilience of communities, there is a need to explore ways for disaster management efforts to be more attentive and adaptable to the changing climate.

Through my two months internship at Asia Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), I will visit and interview national government, sub-national governments, and communities (villages) in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.  These three countries are located along the Mekong River Basin and a large portion of their population rely on natural resources for their livelihood, and thus are very vulnerable to disaster and the changing climate.

As an outsider to these communities conducting a short-term project, I realize that my ability to make a long-lasting contribution to enhance local capacity for disaster management is very limited.  However, through this study, I hope to work with ADPC to understand the link between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and create a foundation for the organization to work with communities over time in enhancing their capacity to prepare for disasters in the face of climate change.

Shoko Takemoto is a Masters in City Planning student at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, focusing on environmental policy and planning.  Shoko is working in Bangkok this summer with the Asia Disaster Preparedness Center where she will examine the link between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in communities in the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia.   Her main interests include food sustainability, climate change, and community engagement, and she was also a member of the Cartagena Practicum.

5 responses to “Preparing for Disaster in The Face of Climate Change”

  1. Stefanie says:

    Shoko!! I hope you are having a great time there. This link between disaster preparedness and climate change is vital– I think it is key to understanding how global environmental forces link to people’s day to day lives. When Katrina hit, people were quick to allude to undertones of “fate” for New Orleans, and not many people talked about how human activities gradually impacted weather patterns over time.

    There are some interesting articles talking about the Katrina/climate change link here:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Climate_change_and_Hurricane_Katrina

    Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Christina says:

    Shoko, this sounds like a really interesting project. The whole problem with climate change (aside from the fact that the Earth’s CLIMATE is CHANGING) is that it is heaving a massive dose of uncertainty on the world. Figuring out how to prepare for natural disasters under these conditions is infinitely complex. Your story highlights the severity of this challenge–should the people of Northern Thailand be preparing for floods or droughts?… Looking forward to hearing more from you on this important topic.

  3. Elizabeth Johansen says:

    Hi Shoko,

    This is such an exciting project! I have heard about similar initiatives focusing on drought in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oxfam has an initiative that gives financial assistance to people affected by climate change. I know multiple organizations are working on micro-insurance solutions for farmers. Essentially, allowing a collective of farmers to buy microinsurance against extremely bad weather years. Here is an interesting video about microinsurance for farmers in the Philippines . It’s a very pressing problem where some farmers end up going into so much debt they can’t see any way out and some go as far as committing suicide. Conversations for a Better World has a post about suicides among farmers in India. Please keep us posted! You are doing such good work.

  4. Christophe says:

    Shoko,

    Your work certainly sounds very interesting and like in Southeast Asia, Ethiopia is experiencing a challenge of varying rains and climate which are having adverse effects on rural livelihoods. A question I had though is to what extent has dam building along the Mekong River basin both helped and exacerbated this problem or water scarcity and/or flooding? Dams are generally considered solutions for mitigating such problems; but has this had negative impacts on those farmers (some of them terrace farmers) along the banks of the Mekong who rely on regular flooding and silting of their fields?

    I’ve included a link not directly related to disaster management, but something that involves the Mekong River regardless. Interestingly, Coca Cola has partnered with WWF to help conserve the Mekong River watershed.

    http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/citizenship/pdf/watersheds_fact_sheet.pdf

  5. Becky Buell says:

    Hi Shoko, Great to hear what you are doing in Thailand. I agree with Elizabeth’s point about the new ways people and institutions are organizing to reduce risk, build resilience and create new sources of shared wealth. It would be interesting to hear about what you are seeing in terms of innovation at the community level in people’s responses to climate change. Good luck, Becky