Climate change blamed for deadly landslide

Disaster zone: Several streets and two bridges were destroyed by the mudslide. © PA

This weekend, an “avalanche of water” caused a mudslide that destroyed the small city of Mocoa in Colombia. At least 250 people were killed. The president blamed climate change — is he right?

“The river has got us. Help us please.”

This weekend, the small city of Mocoa in south west Colombia received a third of its monthly rainfall in a single night. Its rivers burst. And a devastating mudslide swept through the streets, destroying homes and cutting off access to water and electricity.

At the time of writing, at least 250 people have been killed in the disaster, with around 200 still missing.

“It breaks my heart,” said Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos. “We are facing a disaster caused by nature, by climate change.”

Is he right? It is very difficult for scientists to pin specific disasters on climate change. However, most agree that global warming makes extreme weather far more likely. Colombia is particularly vulnerable, and so the country has been outspoken about the need to tackle climate change.

It is becoming more common for politicians and environmental campaigners to blame natural disasters on climate change. But they can be made worse by all sorts of issues, from deforestation to bad housing.

“Climate change is often going to be the domino that falls,” wrote Slate magazine last year. “But that does not mean we can ignore the rest of the dominos in the row.”

Changing weather

That is right, say some. Governments must do everything they can to protect people in risky areas, whether the disasters are linked to climate change or not. Climate science should be left to the scientists, and politicians should focus on reducing the risk to ordinary people.

There is only so much they can do, say environmental campaigners. No matter how many flood defences are built, sometimes extreme weather can still claim lives. And so if global warming is making these disasters more likely, the world should be trying much harder to stop it.

You Decide

  1. Are you worried about climate change?

Activities

  1. Write a news report on the mudslide in Colombia, including a section on climate change.

Some People Say...

“Governments should spend as much on the environment as they do on defence.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The majority of scientists agree that global warming is caused by increased amounts of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.
What do we not know?
Which disasters are caused by global warming. Scientists can predict how likely they are, but this is not exact. If something is five times more likely with global warming, can we be sure it was to blame?

Word Watch

Third
According to President Santos, 130 millimetres of rain fell on Friday night. The monthly average is 400 millimetres.
Climate change
A UN official agreed yesterday, saying that climate change had increased the “frequency and magnitude of these natural effects”.
Deforestation
Cutting down trees can remove natural protection against landslides. Colombia’s former environment minister blamed the disaster on this.
Bad housing
Many homes in Colombia are still “informally” built, meaning they do not follow official guidelines.

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