Natural disasters were once viewed as inevitable events triggered by purely natural phenomena, bad luck, or divine acts of god. Geotic events, such as those of hydrological or meteorological origin, constitute environmental processes that are inherent in the functioning of the planet. It is when these natural events interact with human populations that they provoke a more negative connotation in terminology-disaster. But can we really claim that disasters are ‘natural’ when disaster impacts arguably originate in the social system that is exposed and susceptible to suffering a loss? While the term ‘natural disaster’ often evokes images of extreme natural events in our minds (e.g. the massive ocean wave of a tsunami, or the spinning funnel of a tornado), disasters are better represented by the damages or loss of things that people value. I use the examples below to explain why the naturalness of any disaster is highly debatable within the disaster management community.
This Friday afternoon, I returned home after spending the week in Barham and Deniliquin doing sampling of native fish larvae in the Edward-Wakool river system. Since joining the project and having been on about four field trips, I’ve seen some beautiful things and some not so beautiful. But what I saw this week, was most certainly one of, if not the most disturbing things I have seen in a long time.
The Murray-Darling Basin, for many of us, our study region, is blessed with terrestrial and aquatic fauna, some of which is as threatened as it is beautiful. In my case, one of the many native fishes which has captured my heart, as for many, and inspired my academic pursuit of river ecology is the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii). What is not immediately evident to the casual observer, is that it is listed as a threatened species in Victoria, listed nationally as vulnerable, under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Lintermans et al. 2005) and as critically endangered under the IUCN red list of threatened species (IUCN, 2013). Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean that the species is safe from harm. And to make matters worse, it attracts the kind of attention that ultimately leads to some terrible instances of exploitation even in this day and age.
From the 25th until the 27th of September I attended the International Workshop on Simulation for Energy, Sustainable Development and Environment, held in Athens, Greece as part of the 10th International Multidisciplinary Modeling and Simulation Multiconference. The aim of the Workshop was to bring together scientists and professionals that use and develop models to simulate more sustainable practices and products, based on the idea that simulation models represent a major opportunity to consider the complex nature of environmental and socio-ecological systems.
For this conference, I submitted a paper entitled “Developing a sustainability assessment tool for socio-environmental systems: a case study of systems simulation and participatory modelling” co-authored by academics at Charles Sturt University in Australia: Professor Terry Bossomaier and Dr. Roderick Duncan from the Centre for Research in Complex Systems; PhD Candidate Andrea Rawluk and Professor Max Finlayson from the Institute of Land, Water & Society and Dr. Jonathon Howard from the School of Environmental Sciences.
The aim of the paper was to present the development of a tool to assess sustainability and to give an example in which the use of Agent-Based Modelling can be used as a tool during the process. As an example, for this paper, we chose to model environmental-based tourism of the Winton Wetlands, in Victoria, Australia . We modelled the behaviour of tourists that visit a wetland based on their expectations of a trip in terms of quality of the environment and the level of infrastructure of the site. The model takes into account the complex relations that exist among the environment, society and economy using individual decisions of different agents of the model.
To expand the famous Benjamin Franklin quote, ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death … taxes [and going to the loo]’. My inner dialogue about toilets started on board one of the Clivus Multrum composting toilets at Charles Sturt University. The environment was comfortable, the smell non-existent and I thought, ‘wow, this toilet really is the way of the future’. I walked away with the warm fuzzy knowledge that I had not flushed a drop of clean drinking water, while simultaneously making a contribution towards replenishing the soils on campus.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of ‘going to the loo’ to do their business. 2.5 billion people (that’s a third of the world’s population) lack access to basic sanitation and 1.1 billion people defecate out in the open, often into the nearest river. According to a recent study by the United Nations more people now have access to mobile phones than to toilets. As a direct result of poor sanitation, water related diseases kill more than 3.4 million people every year, making them the leading cause of sickness and death globally. The statistics are shocking to say the least.
Toilets are a feminist issue – women are disproportionately affected by bad sanitation. In Mumbai, India, for example, the New York Times reported that there are more than 1 500 public restrooms for men and only 132 for women. Improved sanitation for women and girls improves their safety, as they are more likely to be targeted for attack if forced to go outdoors alone. Coping with menstruation in the absence of privacy, water or sanitary products can be a nightmare, forcing many young women to miss school. Providing safe and private toilets helps girls stay in school, which is critical for increasing their future job prospects and breaking out of the poverty trap. So why invest in dry or composting toilets to meet the needs of an expanding population?
I recently attended the climate change adaptation 2013 international conference from 25-27th June in Sydney. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Climate Adaptation 2013: knowledge + partnerships’.
The Climate Adaptation 2013 conference was a major Australian forum focusing solely on climate change impacts and adaptation. It brought together almost 600 scientists and decision makers from across Australia to share knowledge and experiences and to build partnerships for action. This year explored the way forward in a world where impacts are increasingly observable and adaptation actions are increasingly required.
Effective communication of science and research, as well as building and maintaining a professional profile, has challenged academics, researchers and their institutions in highly competitive fields for decades. Social media is branded as a way to overcome this and many are adopting into the dominant paradigm. Social media was the feature of the concluding presentation at the recent CSU Institute for Land, Water & Society (ILWS) forum in early July at Thurgoona, with a ‘Speed date’ provided via this YouTube Clip. Continue reading
What has fascinated me most in my current reading on frogs is the diverse range of life history traits that species have developed to survive in the dry conditions that are present on our continent and many others. You probably don’t know that some of these ‘amphibious’ species have better water loss prevention then some desert reptiles (1,6)! It starts most simply with their behaviour. We all know that a large majority of frog species are nocturnal; staying under cover during the day takes on a whole new meaning when you think about it in terms of an environment that reaches soaring temperatures during daylight hours. More fascinating still is the phragmotic behaviour exhibited by the Reed Frog, seeking out humid holes and blocking the entrance with their co-ossified head (pretty much a hard and spikey head) to help shelter them from not only harsh conditions but predatory ones as well (2).
Imagine this. An agricultural scientist in Australia wants to start a research project on parasitic worms in goats in Laos, South East Asia. Goats are new livestock to Laos, and he needs a local collaborator to help with the research.
He writes an email in English to three Lao livestock researchers he has found on the Internet, outlining the project and inviting them to take part.
The Lao scientists open the email and say ‘who is this Australian? Do I know him? How did he get my name? Why should I talk to him?’ After talking together on their mobiles about this silly falang, they press ‘delete’.
The Australian scientist waits for two weeks for replies, but gets none. He gets mad, then disappointed, and then he asks himself ‘what did I do wrong?’
What stopped this project? Was it poor communication?