This year, as 2013 draws to a close, the print, television and internet media are filled, as they are at every year’s end, with reviews of the year by category: “The Year in Style,” “The Year in Sports,” “The Year in Arts,” “The Year in Politics,” etc. With this post, I hereby add my ‘take’ on year-end summaries with “The Year, 2013, in Water.” By all accounts, 2013 was a year of water extremes around the globe: too much water or too little of it.
Too Much Water
Words like ‘historic,’ ‘massive’ and ‘disastrous’ were used to describe the extensive rain events that befell regions and countries around the world during 2013.
June was an especially intense month of flooding in Central Europe, southern Alberta, Canada and India. Beginning on June 2, record rainfall affected major rivers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. The Danube River in Passau, Germany reached its highest level since 1501 and many European cities documented flood waters that represented the highest numbers in over a century, causing widespread evacuations, significant damage to homes, businesses and communities as well as loss of life.
Similarly, heavy rainfall prior to June 20, 2013 triggered flooding in southern Alberta, Canada that has been described by the provincial government as the worst in Alberta’s history and by the Canadian government as the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
Although monsoons in India are an annual event that help to sustain India’s agriculture, the June, 2013 monsoon that hit northern India produced rainfall in one area that was five times the average for the time period, causing mudslides and flooding numerous mountain villages known for their Hindu shrines.
During the week after September 11, 2013, Colorado rainfall over a period of five days in some areas of the state exceeded the amount it normally experiences in a year. Subsequent flooding that impacted seventeen Colorado counties caused the destruction of over 200 miles of state highways, 50 bridges and thousands of homes and forced massive evacuations.
And, just this past week, days of torrential rain precipitated major flooding in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, where over 60,000 residents were forced to flee their homes and where at least 30 people have died. The disaster has been called the worst in 90 years.
Too Little Water
At the same time that many areas of the world experienced excess amounts of water during 2013, others faced the repercussions of drought.
According to the Global Drought Information System, which produces a monthly report on drought conditions, prolonged drought has intensified in the Southwest, U.S., spawning the term,”megadrought,” and triggering numerous ‘megafires’ that have decimated thousands of acres of farms and forests. In Latin America, drought has caused as much damage as other more highly reported natural disasters: extended drought in Bolivia, the worst in 40 years, has triggered 47,000 fires; Argentinian and Brazilian corn plantations, which supply half of the world’s corn produce, have been decimated; and a food emergency has been declared in Paraguay.
Other areas of the world impacted by sustained drought include the South of Africa, areas of Europe along the Mediterranean, Southern India and much of southeast and central parts of Australia.
This is not an uplifting end of year report, by any means. Here’s hoping our scientists and politicians around the world begin to seriously tackle the hard work of addressing climate change so that future ‘Years in Water’ show reductions in the severity of water events and their human, economic and ecological costs.