HAMNET Report 4th September 2022

Quietly, and without much reporting in the Western Hemisphere, Pakistan has been suffering the worst monsoon flooding in at least a decade.

CNN said last weekend that the country’s climate change minister reported that at least 33 million people have been affected by deadly flooding in Pakistan. This represents about 15% of the country’s entire population. At least 215000 people have been displaced by the rising water.

Since mid-June, over a thousand people have died from severe rain and flooding across the South Asian country, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Sherry Rehman, the minister for climate change, called the floods “unprecedented” and “the worst humanitarian disaster of this decade.”

“Pakistan is going through its eighth cycle of monsoon while normally the country has only three to four cycles of rain,” Rehman said. “The percentages of super flood torrents are shocking.”

She highlighted in particular the impact on the south of the country, adding that “maximum” relief efforts are underway.

The NDMA, Pakistani Army, and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority are working to assist those affected — but there is a “dire” need for shelter and relief due to the rising number of homeless and displaced families, she said.

The southern province of Sindh, which has been badly hit by the flooding, has asked for 1 million tents, while neighbouring Balochistan province — largely cut off from electricity, gas and the internet — has requested 100,000 tents, she added.

“Pakistan’s priority, at the moment, is this climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions,” Rehman said, urging the international community to provide aid given Pakistan’s “limited” resources.

Since mid-June, when the monsoon began, more than 3,000 kilometres of road, 130 bridges and 495,000 homes have been damaged, according to NDMA’s last situation report.

From the United Nations News, we learn that, from record-breaking heatwaves in British Columbia, to wildfires in the Mediterranean, floods in Nigeria, and droughts in Taiwan; the period between 2021 and 2022 saw record-breaking catastrophic disasters in all corners of the world.

Some 10,000 people lost their lives, and an estimated $280 billion was incurred in damages worldwide.

The latest Interconnected Disaster Risks report, from the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), finds that many of these disasters shared root causes. At the same time, the study’s authors found that the solutions to preventing or managing them are also closely linked.

“Disasters occurring in completely different parts of the world at first appear disconnected from each other. But when you start analysing them in more detail it quickly becomes clear that they are caused by the same things, for example greenhouse gas emissions or unsustainable consumption,” said Dr. Zita Sebesvari, lead author and deputy director of UNU-EHS.

To connect the dots, the research team of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report looked “below the surface” of each disaster and identified the drivers that allowed them to occur in the first place.

For instance, deforestation leads to soil erosion, which in turn makes land highly susceptible to hazards such as landslides, drought, and sandstorms.

An even deeper dive shows that the drivers of disasters are formed by shared root causes which are more systemic in nature, such as through economic and political systems.

Deforestation can be traced back to placing economic interests over those of the environment and to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Other common root causes found in the report include inequality of development and livelihood opportunities, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and legacies of colonialism. It is root causes like these that can be found in disasters around the globe.

The connections do not stop at root causes and drivers either, but also with who and what is at most risk. Vulnerable groups, in both human settlements and natural ecosystems, continue to be the hardest hit by disasters.

“If we don’t want the disasters which we are currently experiencing to become the new normal, we need to recognize that they are interconnected, as are their solutions,” says lead author Dr Jack O’Connor.

“We have the right kind of solutions better to prevent and manage hazards, but we need urgently to invest in scaling them up and developing a better understanding of how they can work in combination with each other.”

Now here’s some revolutionary technology for you. Newatlas.com reports that, when it comes to communicating with one another while underwater, scuba divers typically use either hand signals or writing boards, both of which have limitations. Soon, however, they could be utilizing an app on their existing smartphone.

One of the problems with hand signals and boards lies in the fact that they can’t always be clearly seen from a distance – or in murky water – plus the diver who is sending the initial message has to make sure that the recipient is already looking in his direction.

Unfortunately radio communications aren’t an option, as radio waves don’t travel well through the water. There are acoustic voice communications systems, but they require both divers to be using expensive transceivers.

Seeking a simpler and more affordable alternative, a team at the University of Washington developed an app that can be used on a smartphone in an underwater [waterproof] housing. Named AquaApp, it allows users to choose between 240 pre-programmed messages which correspond to hand signals used by divers.

In order to keep things simple, messages conveying the 20 most commonly used signals are prominently displayed for quick access. Additionally, the messages can be sorted into eight subject categories, such as those relating to environmental factors or equipment status.

Once a message has been selected, the phone’s speakers send it through the water as a series of acoustic pulses. These pulses are detected by the mic of the recipient’s phone, where the app converts them back into a visual on-screen message. The app also alerts the recipient to the fact that a message has been received.

And thanks to a special networking protocol, up to 60 divers can communicate with one another at once, at one location. Based on field tests conducted in a variety of outdoor settings, the app is claimed to work well up to a distance of 30 m, and can transmit or receive an SOS beacon from as far as 100 m.

There are still some wrinkles to be ironed out, but expect the app to become more widely known over the next couple of years. Thank you to Newatlas for this report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.