(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘drought

“I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity”*…

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, wildfires– they’re all on the rise, in both number and severity. Which is putting more strain on FEMA… But as Nicole Wetsman explains, FEMA is so hard to deal with that a new industry, “disaster consultants,” has emerged… and looks likely to prosper…

… FEMA is, in theory, complicated for a reason. Its labyrinth of rules is there to curb fraud and to make sure that local governments are using taxpayer money appropriately. But a laser focus on fraud prevention sometimes leads to the agency spending as much or more on documentation and reviews as the project itself should cost. “FEMA will spend thousands of dollars writing a project worksheet for $250 of eligible costs,” says Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation section chief at Vermont Emergency Management. “It’s not seeing the forest for the trees.”

And it also makes the process nearly impossible to navigate alone, particularly for cities and small towns that have never dealt with disasters before. Most don’t have any in-house emergency management experts who understand even the basics of the process. Some states, like Vermont, usually send in their own teams from emergency management departments to help cities and towns with the FEMA process. They only use consultants as force multipliers during really, really big disasters. Others, like Oregon, rely on them more often because the state just can’t maintain the level of staffing required.

That layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultantr AThat layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultant Alyssa ] Carrier says. That’s changed over the past few years. “It’s much more like, let’s work together,” she says.

If anything, the public assistance process has only gotten more byzantine over the past few years, experts say. The agency set up a digital portal to streamline the process of submitting public assistance grants. But it’s an undertaking to train local officials — who might have six other jobs — in that tool. “You have to upload every document and do them in a certain order,” Carrier says. “It can be hard to follow if you don’t understand the process to begin with. And one of the issues is, if you don’t do everything in order, you’ll get kicked back out and have to start all over again.”

FEMA is assessing the public assistance program with a focus on simplification, Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, said in an email to The Verge. “FEMA continues its ongoing efforts and initiatives to simplify and streamline the public assistance program,” he said.

But experts say FEMA also seems to be getting stricter with how it applies its own rules around what’s eligible for public assistance funding and around the rules cities and local governments have to follow to get that funding. Some of that is likely because of pressure from the various oversight agencies, like OIG, that come in and double-check the agency’s work. In 2016, the OIG released a report saying that FEMA wasn’t doing enough to make sure that groups receiving public assistance grants were sticking to procurement guidelines. They followed up with a similar report in 2021. “After another report like this, Public Assistance Recipients and Subrecipients should expect FEMA to take an even firmer stance on requiring compliance with procurement regulations,” wrote Michelle Zaltsberg, an attorney specializing in disaster recovery, in a blog post.

All of that oversight colors FEMA’s decisions. “Too often, FEMA prioritizes or looks through the lens of avoiding audit findings, avoiding Inspector General reports, and avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse complaints,” Phelps says. “And then like third or fourth on the list of what they try to do is help survivors.”

None of this is relieved by the growing frequency of disasters pulling the agency — and its money — in all directions. The amount distributed through public assistance funding has gone up for the past three years. There are no restrictions to the program based on dollar amounts; how much money gets spent is purely based on what’s eligible for the program. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the changing climate meant things like wildfires and hurricanes were appearing more frequently and in places where they may not have hit before. Before around 2015, Oregon used to average a federal disaster every 17 or 18 months, Phelps says. Since 2015, they’ve averaged a disaster declaration every seven or eight months — more than twice as often.

That leads to FEMA almost acting more as an insurance company that only pays out money when it has to than an agency providing aid, Phelps says. The first priority often seems to be making sure the paperwork is perfect…

A sobering read: “The Disaster Consultants,” from @NicoleWetsman in @verge.

* John D. Rockefeller, oil tycoon considered the richest person in American history (and possibly in modern history)

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As we ruminate on response, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i; with winds of over 145 mph, it was the second-strongest Pacific hurricane on record, and caused around $3.1 billion (in 1992 USD) in damage and six deaths, making it the costliest natural disaster on record in the state. At the time, Iniki was the third-costliest United States hurricane. The storm struck just 18 days after Hurricane Andrew, the costliest tropical cyclone ever at the time, struck Florida.

Kauaʻi citizens were hopeful for disaster relief from the government or insurance companies, though after six months they felt annoyed with the lack of help.

Hurricane Iniki making landfall on Kauaʻi

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 11, 2022 at 1:00 am

“And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming”*…

 

lost city

Remnants of the ancient city of Cahokia, in what’s now southern Illinois

 

Not far from my grandmother’s house is a ghost city. At Angel Mounds on the Ohio river about eight miles southeast of Evansville, there are a few visible earthworks and a reconstructed wattle-and-daub barrier. There is almost nothing left of the people who build these mounds; in a final insulting erasure, the site is now named after the white settler family who most recently farmed the land.

There are traces of other dead villages along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, mounds scattered from present-day Indiana to Arkansas and Alabama. In southern Illinois, a few miles from the Missouri border, hidden among empty corn and soy fields, is the center of that dead civilization’s gravity: the lost city of Cahokia.

Cahokia was larger than London, centrally planned, the Manhattan of its day. Most people there would have come from somewhere else. There were defensive foundations, playing fields, and a magnificent temple. There would have been sacred ceremonies and salacious gossip. It must have been a very exciting place to live.

And then, relatively abruptly, it ceased to exist. We know of the city only because of the physical traces left behind. Few stories of Cahokia have survived; it disappeared from oral tradition, as if whatever happened to it is best forgotten. The archaeological record shows traces of the desperation and bloodshed that almost always accompany great upheavals: skeletons with bound hands, pits full of strangled young women.

The North American Drought Atlas, a historical record of climate conditions pieced together from the rings of old trees, provides a hint of what might have happened. The tenth century CE, when the Cahokia civilization would have developed, marked a distinct shift in the regional climate from persistent drought to rainier conditions more suitable for agriculture, centralization, and civilization.

But the good times were not to last…

Some people say “the climate has changed before,” as though that should be reassuring. It’s not: “Lost Cities and Climate Change.”

See also:  “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises” and “What kind of climate change coverage do you read in the news? It depends on whether you live in a rich country or a poor one.”

* “Thanks to the centrifugal pump, places like Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas had thrown on the garments of fertility for a century, pretending to greenery and growth as they mined glacial water from ten-thousand-year-old aquifers. They’d played dress-up-in-green and pretended it could last forever. They’d pumped up the Ice Age and spread it across the land, and for a while they’d turned their dry lands lush. Cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans — vast green acreages, all because someone could get a pump going. Those places had dreamed of being different from what they were. They’d had aspirations. And then the water ran out, and they fell back, realizing too late that their prosperity was borrowed, and there would be no more coming.”
Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (a powerful novel)

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As we face facts, we might recall that it was on this date in 1854 that Ticknor & Fields published transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, Walden; or, Life in the Woods.

220px-Walden_Thoreau source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 9, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim”*…

 

The United States is an enormous country, spanning mountains, deserts, forests, prairie, tundra, and more. This varied terrain is also home to many natural hazards spawned by air, water, fire, and forces beneath the Earth’s surface.

Some of these threats are dramatic; the United States and its territories have the greatest number of active volcanoes of any country except Indonesia, as well as the most tornadoes. Other hazards, like heat waves, are less flashy but can still kill you.

Different regions of the country face very different hazards. But which part of the United States is the most dangerous? It turns out there’s no simple answer, although the south does have a particularly generous share of hazards…

See how the country’s natural menaces differ by geography at “Where in the United States is nature most likely to kill you?

* Eduardo Galeano

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As we calculate our odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that New Richmond Tornado– an estimated F5 storm, formed in the early evening, and went on to tear a 45-mile long path of destruction through St. Croix, Polk and Barron counties in west-central Wisconsin, leaving 117 people dead, twice as many injured, and hundreds homeless.  The worst devastation wrought by the tornado was at the city of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which took a direct hit from the storm.  In all, more than $300,000 ($8,825,000 in today’s dollars) in damage was reported.  Still, it ranks as only the ninth deadliest tornado in United States history.

The ruins of New Richmond Methodist Church after the tornado

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The best blood will at some time get into a fool or a mosquito”*…

 

Woman dressed as a mosquito at the Russian Mosquito Festival

Nine year old Irina Ilyukhina earned the title of “tastiest girl” last month at the Russian Mosquito Festival, an annual event held in Berezniki, a town in the Ural Mountains.  She and other contestants stood in shorts and vests for 20 minutes in a bug-infested wood; Irina’s winning total was 43 bites.

In 2013, the winner collected more than 100 mosquito bites; but unusually hot and dry weather in Berezniki diminished the insect population this year. Most years, attendees can participate in a mosquito hunt that rewards whomever can collect the most bugs in a glass jar; this year’s festival had to forgo the event.

More at “9-year-old wins ‘tastiest girl’ competition at annual Russian Mosquito Festival.”  C.f. also, The Great Texas Mosquito Festival, held annually in Clute, Texas.  (One notes that, Russia has confirmed just five cases of travel-related Zika in recent months, Texas has reported 125, and the United States as a whole, over 2,500.)

* Benito Mussolini

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As we slather on the DEET, we might spare a thought for Fredrick Kenneth Hare, CC OOnt FRSC; he died on this date in 2002.  One of Canada’s leading climatologists and environmentalists, he led both academic and political efforts to measure and stem the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, to mitigate climate change, and to prevent drought.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

Beware the Pink Armadillo!…

Blizzards across the U.S. (record snowfalls)… droughts in Russia (worst in a century) and China (likely the worst in 200 years)…  a one-two punch in the Antipodes: a century-worst decade of drought in Australia followed immediately by devastating floods

There’s no question that climate disruption (or “global warming” or whatever one wants to call it) is having real impact: disrupted transit and hammered retail sales in the U.S. (and the U.K.) seem mere inconveniences in the face of drought-driven pressure on global food prices– pressure that’s aggravated the already painful problem of poverty around the world, and that’s surely contributed to the tensions roiling repressive/regressive regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere…  all, scientists suggest, just a taste of the broader and deeper impacts to come if humankind doesn’t heal its relationship with Nature.

And, of course, it is up to us humans.  Nature doesn’t care.  Nature is perfectly prepared to get on with a future sans people.  Memento Mori, Memento Natura…

Thankfully, there are artists to remind us– artists who were, as is so often the case, attuned to the threat even before the scientific establishment.  Consider, for example, Jinzo Ningen Kikaida (a 70s Japanese TV series in the tradition of the great Ishiro Honda), which fielded this crystalline allegory:

Mother Nature’s go-go boots are made for walking– walking all over you.

As we ask not what Copenhagen can do for us, but what we can do for Copenhagen, we might recall that it was on this date in 1611 that Johannes Fabricius discovered sunspots (now reputed to have some impact on global climate); he published his observation on June 13 of that year in  Narratio de Maculis in Sole Observatis et Apparente Earum cum Sole Conversione (“Narration on Spots Observed on the Sun and their Apparent Rotation with the Sun“).

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