Exactly a year ago, a record 9.41 foot storm surge flooded Battery Park, Lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Far Rockaway, and Breeze Point, Long Island. New York City tunnels and subways were out of service for weeks, power outages closed schools, hospitals, community centers and whole neighborhoods. Overall there were $64 billion monetary damage, 72 casualties, and more then 6 million displaced.
This was the second deadliest and most destructive hurricane in the history of New York. Though as per NOAA – the Deadliest Hurricanes in the US happened in 1900 – the Great Galveston Hurricane that claimed 8,000-12,000 victims and the 1928 Okeechobee Lake Hurricane that claimed 2,500 – 3,000 lives but seems to have cost $180 Billion in today’s dollars. By comparison, Katrina cost 81 Billion. The overriding question the panel put out for itself was if we learned from past Hurricanes and are better prepared for the future ones? Let me say already here, that by the time of the Q&A it became clear that the preparation must be done in major part by us – that is the communities at large – and not just wait for a Government intervention that if it even comes will be delayed at best.
The panel, organized by Mehmet Kilic, Director of the center for Global Affair of the Institute was led by Ambassador Narinder Kakar (of Turkish Nationality) who after 30 years at UNDP, is now IUCN and the Costa Rica based UN Univercity for Peace representative to the UN. He gave the UN background on climate change.
He was followed by Dr. Thomas Chandler and Ms. Meg Sutton from The Earth Institute of Columbia University; Mr. ndrew Martin who is the Response Coordinator for FEMA in the New York Region, and Mr. Martin Cetiner who is Vice President for International Affairs of a Turkish NGO active in humanitarian aid in 103 countries www.KimSeyoKuu.org.tr
Mr. Kakar gave examples from South East Asia showing how preparation is leading to decreasing numbers of casualties though there was enhanced storm and flooding activity. He kept saying that Climate Change is the defining issue of our times and Adaptation to Climate change is the most imediate move to avoid hazards. Other needed activities are for mitigation.
His examples included the earlier start of seasonal bush fires in Australia’s New South Wales, and the Failin Cyclon of the coast of India where anticipation, food storage and early evacuation of 900,000 people has helped reduced – in the cyclon case the number of casualties from 10,000 to 15.
Dr. Chandler mentioned that Munich Re estimated that the weather risks in America are the highest in the world. He compared these to what happened in Cuba and it cannot be said that the US is well prepared for Climate Change effects. The FEMA manager was then in no position to make the audience feel any better.
The New York City free distribution daily newspaper – amNEWYORK had several pages today “City rebuilds to withstand next superstorm but much still needs to be done.” same for new Jersey where Governor Christie wants to build storm surge barriers and artificial dunes to protect the shores. Until then there is no answer in fact.