Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sustainability leader appointed Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative

Sustainability leader appointed Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Sustainability leader and Worldconnector Herman Mulder has been appointed Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s Board of Directors.

Herman Mulder is a member of the board of the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP) of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Mulder is a former senior executive vice-president at ABN AMRO, and is now an independent board member with a focus on sustainable development issues.

Mulder said of the appointment: “I am very honored and excited to be Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative. We are witnessing a turning point for sustainability reporting, as it moves from an experimental pursuit to a mainstream practice. I look forward to leading GRI as it helps make sustainability reporting standard practice worldwide.”

Mulder also worked in the field of livelihood development finance in India and Brazil, where he gained insights into the global value chain and the positive effects companies can have on people living in lower income countries. He explained, “I learnt how interconnected the world really is – from the farmers in Brazil to the coffee in your cup. It’s important to know our own value chain and recognize that imbalances can be a major issue.”

“One of the lessons of the financial crisis is that we need much better transparency on more risks and opportunities,” added Mulder. “This is a global imperative. Governments, stock exchanges and investors should adopt a report or explain approach to policy, encouraging more organizations to report their performance. Notwithstanding recent significant progress in sustainability reporting using GRI’s Guidelines, many more companies should adopt advanced disclosure practices, addressing risks, opportunities, dependencies and impacts in their entire value chain. Moreover, investors should recognize that such disclosure is essential for them too: ‘use or lose’.”

Mulder was appointed Vice-Chairman following the departure of Professor Mervyn King in October 2011, and has been Acting Chairman in the interim period. The Board of Directors resolved to appoint Mulder Chairman during their meeting on Friday 25 November 2011.

GRI’s Board of Directors appointed Anita Normark as Vice-Chairman of the Board during the same meeting. Normark was General Secretary of the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) from 2001 to 2009, and before that General Secretary of the Nordic Federation of Building and Woodworkers for 15 years. Working closely with the ILO, the focus of the BWI has been to implement globally recognized labor standards, and to promote sustainable development in the construction and wood and forestry sectors. Normark continues to promote sustainable construction developments as a consultant.

On 6 October 2011, Professor Mervyn King was awarded the title of Honorary Chairman of GRI, after almost five years serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Professor King moved on to take up the position of Chairman of the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC) on 1 October 2011.


For further information contact:

Lucy Goodchild
Press & Communications Manager
Global Reporting Initiative
Tel: +31 (0)20 531 0067
Out of office hours: +31 (0)6 303 99 531

Notes to Editors

1. About the Global Reporting Initiative

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) produces a comprehensive Sustainability Reporting Framework that is widely used around the world, to enable greater organizational transparency. The Framework, including the Reporting Guidelines, sets out the Principles and Indicators organizations can use to report their economic, environmental, and social performance. GRI is committed to continuously improving and increasing the use of the Guidelines, which are freely available to the public.


2. About Herman Mulder

Herman Mulder is Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). He is Chairman of Social Equity Fund (SEF) and a board member of Utz Certified/Good Inside and the Dutch National Council for Development Cooperation & Sustainable Development (NCDO). Mulder is Dutch National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (NCP-NL), a Trustee of Tomorrow’s Company (London), and on the board of Business in Development (BiD), Consensus Building Institute (CBI, Boston) and Social Micro Finance Technical Assistance Foundation (SMF-TA). He is also on the Steering Committee of the Worldconnectors.

Mulder is a member of the Advisory Board of TEEB, the EU study task force on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’. He is co-initiator of the international ‘Hague Framework for Development Financing’, and of the SEWA/Haryiali/cookstove project. He is also a member of the judging panel of the FT/IFC Sustainable Bank Awards and of the VBDO Supply Chain Award.

Mulder is recognized as a leader in development and ‘green’ financing, working on a number of innovative projects, marrying public sector aims with private sector/business interests. He is a frequent speaker and publicist. He is a Knight in the Royal Order of Oranje-Nassau for his work in sustainable development.

From 1998-2006 Mulder was Director-General and Head of Group Risk Management of ABN AMRO Bank, the Netherlands. From 1995-1998 he was Head of Global Structured Finance at ABN AMRO. He led ABN AMRO in the period 1998-2006 to become the premier international bank in sustainable development. Initiator of the Equator Principles, Mulder created the ABN AMRO Foundation and was its first chairman. After his retirement Mulder was vice-chairman of the ABN AMRO India Foundation.

Mulder has held senior advisory roles for the UN Global Compact, World Business Council on Sustainable Development, Club de Madrid, Taellberg Foundation, OXFAM NOVIB, Earth Charter International, Youth Employment & Sustainability (YES), and Business Steering Committee for UN Finance for Development.

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CYCLONE WARNING INDIA : Depression over westcentral and adjoining eastcentral Arabian Sea

ARB 04/2011/22, Dated: 30.11. 2011

Time of issue:1400 hours IST

Sub: Depression over westcentral and adjoining eastcentral Arabian Sea.

The depression over eastcentral and adjoining areas of westcentral Arabian Sea moved northwestwards and lay centred at 1130 hrs IST of today, the 30th November 2011 over westcentral and adjoining eastcentral Arabian Sea near latitude 17.50 N and longitude 63.50 E, 1000 km west-southwest of Mumbai, 600 km southeast of Masirah (Oman) and 950 km south-southwest of Karachi(Pakistan). The system is likely to move northwestwards and maintain the same intensity for some time.

As the depression will move further northwestwards, no weather will occur along and off west coast of India due to this system.

Climate Change: Role of Asia and the Pacific Key to Global Future

November 28, 2011 - The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is underway in Durban, South Africa, from November 28 –December 9, 2011. ADB believes the talks must continue to put Asia and the Pacific at the forefront of global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to help countries adapt to new economic and social threats.

“The region, with over 50% of the world’s population and two-thirds of its poor, is deeply vulnerable to climate change-linked events such as rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts and floods,” said ADB Vice-President Bindu Lohani. “Without coordinated international action to help address climate change, Asia’s extraordinary growth and poverty reduction achievements of the past three decades will be undermined, and this in turn will hurt the global economy.”

Asia and the Pacific Countries are Vulnerable to Climate Change

Geography compounded with high levels of poverty and population density has rendered Asia and the Pacific countries especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Climate change is real and the region faces daunting climate-related development challenges. Some of the impacts are predicted to be in the form of new challenges (such as sea-level rise) and others as age-old threats made more severe by climate change (such as flooding or drought).

The likely impacts of climate change in the form of higher temperatures, more variable precipitation, and more extreme weather events are already felt in many countries in the region. The region will need to adapt to those changes and reduce their exposure to climate risks. Yet few developing countries in the region are well adapted to even current climate variations.

Impact on Poor

The effects of global warming are unfair. Climate change impacts the poor disproportionately because they depend heavily on climate-sensitive natural resources and subsist in an environment of scarcity where even small shocks can cause irreversible loss. Hence, climate change poses an additional risk to development and could potentially delay or reverse the attainment of many of the Millennium Development Goals, including those on poverty eradication, child mortality, vector-borne diseases, and environmental sustainability.

Natural Endowment

The region has thousands of islands, many below or just a few feet above sea level, and is endowed with some of the most important marine resources of the world, including coral reefs, a wide range of fish species, and other biodiversity. Livelihoods of millions are derived in large part from forestry, fishery, and tourism. The region’s ecosystems are already stressed and climate change will intensify many existing stresses caused by unsustainable resource use.

Sea-level Rise

Sea-level rise represents an existential threat to many small island nations. Being land scarce and low lying, they are exposed to the risks of intensifying weather events such as damage caused by inundation, extreme winds, and flooding from storms.

Many of these islands have more territorial sea than land. With future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, many of the island nations - Kiribati, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands - could be submerged in the worst-case scenarios.

Sea-level rise is also a major source of concern for coastal urban areas and for the fertile delta systems, which are threatened by both inundation and salt water intrusion.

Natural Disasters

The region is highly susceptible to natural disasters. In 2010, more than 30 million people in Asia and the Pacific were displaced by weather-related environmental disasters, and that pattern is likely to continue and grow.

Impacts ranging from higher temperatures to more variable precipitation and more extreme weather events are already being felt in the form of regular droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones. With climate change the frequency and incidence of such natural disasters is projected to increase. Recent floods in Cambodia, Pakistan, Philippines, the People Republic of China (PRC) and Thailand offer a somber lesson.

Thailand’s recent flooding has been described as its worst in over 50 years. There have been over 600 reported deaths and over 3 million people affected. It is estimated the country’s gross domestic product could decline by up to 2% as a result of the devastation.

As climate-related risks intensify, there will be a need to respond proactively to build resilience through prevention and preparedness rather than through relief and response.

Urban Expansion

The region has some of the fastest growing cities in the world. The United Nations estimates that by 2020, 13 of the world’s 25 megacities, most of them situated in low-lying coastal areas, will be in Asia and the Pacific. In many megacities, more than half the population is crowded into densely populated slums that are at risk from flooding and where settlements lack basic protective infrastructure.

Climate change will likely exacerbate existing pressures on key resources associated with growth, urbanization and industrialization. Without a substantial investment in basic amenities and infrastructure in these large cities, climate change will worsen existing vulnerabilities.

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Alpine cities feel heat from climate change

Alpine cities feel heat from climate change

Community risk assessment workshop in Lienz, Austria. (Credit: Andreas Kohler)
By Dizery Salim

GENEVA, 29 November 2011 - In Tyrol, Austria, a poster showing a green valley with snow-capped mountains in the distance greeted delegates to a conference on climate change – a beautiful summer scene which hides a potential nightmare scenario for winter tourism in the alps.

Climate change is raising the heat in mountain regions more drastically than in other areas of the world, with temperatures rising in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps by 2 to 2.2 degrees compared to the global average of 0.8 degrees.

Eric Veulliet, Managing Director of the Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Technologies (Alp-s) in Austria, told journalists at the Managing Alpine Future II conference, which ran from 21 to 23 November, that climate change will pose a “massive threat” to winter tourism, an important pillar of the Tyrolean economy.

“Snow is not known to tolerate much heat. Low-lying ski resorts had always feared for the future of the winter wonderland,” he said.

According to news reports, some ski resorts in the Austrian Alps have cancelled their season opening weekends because of a lack of snow, after the driest November since the 1920s.

Scenario-building conducted by neighbouring Switzerland warned of similar risks to Swiss tourism by 2030, because of “loss of attractiveness” due to reduced snow cover and a disappearing winter atmosphere in the Swiss Plateau.

The Swiss national tourism office, which published the report in 2008, said in addition to a decline in the next 20 years in the number of visitors interested in winter sports, the country would need greater investments to adapt to changing conditions, because of higher costs to protect against increasing natural hazards.

In the Austrian alps, the Centre run by Mr. Veulliet has held 200 workshops for local mayors and disaster management teams in the mountain province of Tyrol, producing detailed risk maps which are then distributed to emergency and risk managers. The maps show over 7,100 risk areas – spots exposed to dangers that range from rockfall and debris flow to avalanches and floods.

However, although community risk assessments have been compulsory in Austria since the 1970s, more needs to be done to translate policy into actual preparedness, local authorities say.

Andreas Kohler, Chief Risk Analyst at Alp-s, who is working to improve preparedness among local emergency management teams, said one challenge was that people were quick to forget the dangers, even after a big disaster.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UN Disaster Risk Reduction Chief Calls for Better Planning

UN Disaster Risk Reduction Chief Calls for Better Planning

UNISDR's Margareta Wahlstrom (L) during a visit to Sri Lanka (file photo).
Photo: AP
UNISDR's Margareta Wahlstrom (L) during a visit to Sri Lanka (file photo).

The United Nations’ disaster risk reduction chief says more planning is needed by governments to respond to the growing threat of disasters, especially triggered by climate change. UNISDR’s Margareta Wahlstrom says coastal cities in Asia also need to build in greater resilience in flood prevention and mitigation, together with improved urban planning.

Wahlstrom, chief of the U.N.’s International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said in an interview with VOA that governments in Asia need to improve institutions linked with disaster management, and to plan better for future disasters.

Flooding in Southeast Asia since June has affected almost 20 million people, with over 1,000 lives lost. Some 13 million people have been affected in Thailand, one of the hardest hit countries. Floods across Asia are reportedly the most severe in 50 years.

Wahlstrom says better planning is essential to respond to future disasters.

A woman pushes her dogs in a makeshift container through a flooded street in Bangkok, Thailand, October 28, 2011.
A woman pushes dogs in a makeshift container through a flooded street in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 28, 2011.

“The scale this year is extraordinary; the economic and human impact is extraordinary, but the big shift that has not yet fully taken place is that these are events - they must be planned for and therefore governments, business organizations, organizations like ourselves, need to set themselves up for these institutionally, forward planning, invest seriously in public education and awareness.”

She says governments also need to better integrate policy in handling disasters.

In Thailand, both the central government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Bangkok’s city government have faced local criticism for failing to coordinate the response to the floods. The central government is facing both legal challenges and a no-confidence debate in parliament over its handling of the disaster.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently warned governments to prepare for more frequent and dangerous extreme weather events due to climate change. Such extreme weather events are likely to cause billions of dollars in losses to the region's economy and affect millions of lives.

Wahlstrom says in Asia-Pacific cities on coastal plains, which are vulnerable to climate change-induced rising sea levels, better urban planning will be a major challenge.

“So you need to focus on making Bangkok more resilient, or Manila or Jakarta, and I think we really have to be very clear - that’s a major challenge from a financial urban planning perspective to get that reasonable and right and balanced between people’s immediate aspirations for development.”

In the case of countries like Cambodia that are undergoing rapid economic development, the solution lies in building new infrastructure and planning for the impact of future seasonal flooding.

With a 30-year career in international disaster response and aid work, Wahlstrom says she is often inspired by peoples’ resilience in the face of such disasters.

“If you were to ask someone who is actually sitting there, beyond asking for, if needed, some assistance for their immediate needs - what they would ask for is, well, ‘let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again; what measure can we take that we are safer in the future' - that’s where perhaps the big long-term planning is not in full sync with what people would advise us to do," she said.

Wahstrom made her comments ahead of a U.N. climate change conference due to take place in Durban, South Africa, this week. The meeting will bring together over 10,000 officials from more than 190 countries. The aim is to put in place a new global change agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, which is due to expire in December 2012.

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"Encouraging progress", NEW!


Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and former prime minister of New Zealand is in Nepal this week to inspect development projects. Clark spoke to Nepali Times about Nepal's progress in meeting Millennium Development Goals and the challenges ahead.

Nepali Times: With only four years to go for the MDG target date, how would you rate the chances of developing countries to meet the goals?
Helen Clark:
Over the past decade, notable progress has been made on each individual MDG, including in many least developed countries and under very challenging circumstances. Business as usual, however, won't get the world all the way to achieve the MDG targets. The right mix of policies, targeted technical assistance, institutional capacity, adequate funding, and strong political commitment are necessary to accelerate progress. UNDP supports country-led development based on inclusive growth strategies which benefit the poorest and most vulnerable.

And how does Nepal's performance compare with the others?
Despite political and economic challenges, Nepal has made MDG progress over the past decade. According to the 2010 MDG progress report, Nepal is on track to achieve most targets, with a few exceptions, if the current trends in progress continue. Achievements in reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are particularly encouraging. Poverty has gone down significantly, and Nepal is close to reaching the 2015 MDG poverty target. Nepal has already achieved gender parity in primary school enrollments, but the gender gap remains high at secondary and tertiary education levels. As a former political leader in my own country, I am particularly happy to note that one-third of the seats in the Constituent Assembly are now held by women. Nepal has had the foresight to integrate the MDGs into its national development strategies, as reflected in its Three Year Plan, and I have confidence that Nepal will continue its MDG progress.

A lot of the problems in the developing world need long-term structural and governance solutions, but aren't the needs are so immediate.
Development is a long term process. UNDP works for decades in countries and helps them build the capacity to lift human development. Some face greater challenges than others, but all can succeed. It is important to align meeting short term needs with the longer term direction established, in other words, each step taken should be in support of the goals to be achieved over time.

UN staff were among the thousands who died in the Haiti earthquake last year. What lessons has the UN learnt about disaster preparedness and response from that event?
Haiti was a tragic reminder of the importance of building resilience to disaster. Disaster risk reduction measures, ensuring that humanitarian response systems are ready, and imagining the unimaginable all need to be undertaken. Effective governance is needed to achieve this, of the kind which ensures building codes are in place and enforced, land use plans are carefully thought through, and creates a clear sense of duty of care among elected and appointed public officials. International support is needed for both the humanitarian and development aspects of this work.

Any particular effect this has had in helping Nepal prepare for a disaster that one day is sure to come?
Given the high earthquake risk and other hazards in Nepal, UNDP has been working with the government on disaster risk reduction for many years. A recent result of that work was the establishment with the Home Ministry of a National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). We already see concrete results: when an earthquake struck the east of Nepal recently, the national and district level emergency operation centres reacted within one hour. That was a huge improvement compared to the level of preparedness only one year ago. UNDP and a range of partners also helped the government develop a new National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management which was approved in 2009. It signals an important shift in policy from focusing mainly on relief and response to a more balanced approach to risk reduction overall. The key challenge now is to implement this ambitious new strategy with a sense of urgency

A Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium came into being in 2009 under government leadership, bringing together the UN system, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the Red Cross Movement, the European Commission, and the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Australia, to accelerate and expand risk reduction measures in Nepal. The Consortium has already raised more than $60 million for school and hospital retrofitting, emergency preparedness, building code enforcement, community preparedness, and many other measures. The Consortium is seen as a model of how to get organised to tackle disaster risk more effectively in countries like Nepal.

And, finally, impressions of your visit to Nepal this week?
We were very proud to have with us Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, who is the UNDP Goodwill Ambassador with us on our trip to Nepal this week. We have very vivid impressions of our visit here. It is an imposing landscape, and a challenge in development. We met the highest leaders in Kathmandu to women starting their own micro businesses in a village in western Nepal. It was very inspiring to see how much they could do with so little, and how giving young people skills can better the livelihoods of their families. In our visit to a maternity clinic we saw the role played by Nepal's female health volunteers and what was most significant to me was that that it was an example of a community that could articulate what they wanted from local leaders, and they said they wanted better maternity clinics. Back in Kathmandu we had two very significant meetings on Weaddnesday, one with CA members and a meeting with senior political leaders at the Prime minister's residence. It is enormously significant that they take the job of speedily completing the peace and constitution process seriously.

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‘Preparedness at the local level crucial to disaster management’

‘Preparedness at the local level crucial to disaster management’

(From Left) Parliamentary Secretary for Prisons, Home Guard & Civil Defence, Fire & Emergency Services W. Kithan; Member of the NDMA, JK Sinha; NDMA’s Incident Command System Specialist BB Gadnayak; and Special Secretary (Home) also DIG Fire & Emergency Services, L. Singsit, IPS at the inaugural on Saturday, November 28 at Rhododendron Conference Hall, NAPTC, Chumukedima. (Morung Photo)

DIMAPUR, NOVEMBER 28 (MExN): A three-day sensitizing programme for disaster management personnel began Monday, November 28 in Dimapur. Organised by Nagaland Fire & Emergency Services at Rhododendron Hall, NAPTC in collaboration with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the seminar - ‘Incident Response System for Formation of Incident Response Team’ – seeks to update the state’s disaster response personnel on the existing disaster management apparatus or ‘incident response systems’ and the corresponding action thereof, albeit, under a coordinated and unified chain of command for optimum results.
Member of the NDMA, JK Sinha came all the way from Delhi just to attend the seminar. In his address, Sinha outlined that the term disaster management is nothing but an organized way of responding to a given situation, man-made or natural, through a coordinated and pre-determined set of action. “It is not rocket science, what is required is bare common sense” and making the best use of the available resources, he said. Talking of resources, he said that the ‘cutting edge’ for any response (to a situation) lies at the local level or the district officials nearest to the place of incident, who are charged with the responsibility of responding to such situations. “That is where we need to organize things.”
In the case of Nagaland, one can take advantage of the existing community structure, where the authorities can take the assistance of the various tribal bodies. The community or the locals, is a very important component. They are the ones affected as well as the first to respond. That is why keeping the people up-to-date on the response mechanism is a crucial factor, he said.
Stating that landslides and earthquakes are two definite disasters known to the state, he said that Nagaland must be prepared in this aspect. What is required is putting in place the requisite emergency equipments and other resources, he added; crucial among them being, having a reliable, all-weather communication apparatus.
After all has been said, having a fair idea of the predesigned ‘disaster management plan’ is vital as well as a map of the resources available. Everyone should know of it and should know the plan for the area, if in case disaster strikes, he maintained. Further, the state’s fire fighting capabilities must be upgraded by investing in modern equipments developed for the purpose, he said. Funding or rather the lack of it being a problem, he informed that the 13th Finance Commission has channeled a lot of money towards capacity building.

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5.1 quake hits China-Myanmar border region

5.1 quake hits China-Myanmar border region


An earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale jolted China-Myanmar border region late last night, the China Earthquake Networks Center reported.

The epicenter, with a depth of 7 km, was initially determined to be at 25.1 degrees north latitude and 97.6 degrees east longitude, the center said.

The tremor was felt in the city of Mangshi and Yingjiang and Tengchong counties in southwestern Yunnan Province at around 11:06 pm Beijing Time (2036 IST).

The epicenter was on the Myanmar side, some 15 km from the border and 57 km from the government seat of Yingjiang County, state run Xinhua news agency reported quoting sources with the Yunnan Earthquake Bureau.

There are no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from the affected region.

A magnitude-5.8 earthquake hit Yingjiang County on March 10 this year, leaving 26 people dead and 313 others injured, including 133 seriously.

Monday, November 28, 2011

ID Entification of Seismic-Zones

ID Entification of Seismic-Zones

Bureau of Indian Standards [IS-1893 (Part-1): 2002] has grouped the country into four seismic zones viz. Zone-II, III, IV and V of these, Zone V is the most seismically active region, while zone II is the least. As per this zoning, the entire Delhi region falls in seismic zone IV and as per this classification, the Delhi region is classified as “Severe intensity zone” and is broadly considered to be associated with maximum earthquake effects, as per intensity VIII on Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) scale as detailed below:

“Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable in ordinary but substantial buildings with partial collapse; very heavy in poorly built structures; panel walls thrown out of framed structures; falling of chimney, factory stacks, columns, monuments, and walls; heavy furniture overturned, sand and mud ejected in small amounts; changes in well water; and disturbs persons driving motor cars.”

Guidelines have also been published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Building Materials & Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for the design and construction of earthquake resistant structures to minimize the loss of life and damage to property caused by earthquakes. The Government has completed the 1st level seismic microzonation study of NCT of Delhi on 1:50000 scale. The seismic microzonation maps are useful in land use planning, formulation of site specific design and construction criteria for the buildings and structures, towards minimizing the damage to property and loss of life caused by earthquakes. The Government has implemented various programmes to educate and raise awareness amongst school children and general public on various aspects of earthquakes, their impacts and measures to mitigate losses.

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Himalayan nations yet to break the ice

Himalayan nations yet to break the ice
With global average temperature increasing, its most visible and direct effect can be seen on mountains.
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2011 13:06
Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, has been using the iconic peak to draw global attention to the risks faced by its mountain community. [GALLO/GETTY]

Kathmandu, Nepal - Chungda Sherpa, a former herder from eastern Nepal, has a warning tale ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Durban.

At World Wildlife Fund-Japan's 'Climate Witness' programme in Osaka and Tokyo this month, to apprise communities around the world how climate change is threatening lives and livelihoods, the 48-year-old described how the glacier on Mt Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, is shrinking rapidly.

"In 1957, when Swiss geologist Dr Toni Hagen took the photograph of the Gangapurna glacier on the northern slope of Mt Annapurna, it lay over the Manang valley. But recent photos show the glacier is now just a hanging strip. We have witnessed the change in our lifetime."

- Pradeep Moor

"When I was young... I was told it was one of the largest non-polar glaciers in the world," he said. "But it has retreated now and I can see glacial lakes forming, which could grow larger over time and become GLOFs (glacial lake outburst floods), posing a threat to our lives and property."

With global average temperature increasing by approximately 0.75 degrees Celsius in the last century, its most visible and direct effect can be seen on mountains, says Pradeep Mool, remote sensory expert at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

"The health of glaciers indicates the state of the climate," says Mool. "In 1957, when Swiss geologist Dr Toni Hagen took the photograph of the Gangapurna glacier on the northern slope of Mt Annapurna, it lay over the Manang valley. But recent photos show the glacier is now just a hanging strip. We have witnessed the change in our lifetime."

Shrinking glaciers

The shrinking and retreating of the Himalayan glaciers - which provide life-giving water to over a billion people - became visible after early 1970. Three decades later, the phenomenon accelerated, resulting in the formation of moraine-dammed glacial lakes which are swelling ominously.

There are over 20,000 glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and a GLOF risk assessment report by ICIMOD in 2010 compiled a list of 179 potentially dangerous ones in China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. In addition, experts have identified another 25 in Bhutan.

So far, China has recorded the highest number of GLOFs (29), followed by Nepal (22), Pakistan (9) and Bhutan (4).

"There is a dearth of data," says Mool. "For instance, people talk of cold floods in India and Myanmar (Burma), which could have been GLOFs; even some satellite images indicate that. But there is no recorded literature."

The geography as well as geopolitics of the region comes in the way of extensive surveys and information sharing.

Disputed territory

The high altitude of glacial lakes and glaciers - 4,800m above sea level and higher - makes them virtually inaccessible. Also, many of them are near international boundaries or in disputed territory, like the Siachen glacier near India's boundary with Pakistan and Arunachal Pradesh state in India, part of which is claimed by China.

The disputes make them sensitive areas, often out of bounds for scientific surveys.

Political instability and ensuing violence, like in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also obstruct research. But despite the difficulties, ICIMOD has now for the first time conducted additional survey of GLOFs in Afghanistan and Burma.

The new inventory of nearly 1,700 lakes in the two countries, done mostly by satellite imaging, will be tabled in Durban during 17th conference of the parties (COP 17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban.

Though most of the governments in the region realise the need to combat climate change and have individually formulated national action plans as well as laws on disaster management, there is still little collective effort.

Climate summit

For instance, on November 19, Bhutan hosted a 'Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas' to address climate change impacts on bio-diversity, food and energy security and the natural freshwater systems of the Himalayas.

However, only India, Nepal and Bangladesh participated, besides the host country, raising eyebrows at the non-participation of China and Pakistan.

"The meeting was intended only for countries from the eastern Himalayas," says Krishna Gyawali, secretary at Nepal's environment ministry. "We have to start somewhere and then gradually expand."

However, it is felt that India's uneasy relationship with China and Pakistan could have kept them out.

"Some of Asia's major rivers like the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Mekong flow through more than one country," says Mool. "Water-induced disasters spill over borders.

"Ten of the GLOF devastations experienced by Nepal originated in Tibet. The effect is long-lived. Besides the immense cost of rebuilding infrastructure in mountainous regions, there is the possibility of increasing landslide and avalanche. So, regional co-operation is a must."

Disaster management

What is promising is that some of these countries are working with multilateral donor agencies to lessen GLOF risks, create an early warning system in case of floods and devise optional livelihood means for displaced people.

According to Martin Krause, team leader at UNDP Asia-Pacific regional centre's environment and energy division, the agency is engaged in projects in Bhutan and Pakistan with a new one to start in Nepal next year.

In Bhutan, it is focusing on the Buddhist kingdom's two most vulnerable areas, the Punakha-Wangdi and Chamkhar valleys, home to 10 per cent of the country's population and important infrastructure.

The projects are co-financed by the UNFCC, Least Developed Countries Fund and the Austrian government. UNDP hopes that a component of the project - reducing the water level of Lake Thorthormi, ranked among Bhutan's most dangerous glacial lakes - will provide valuable experience to other countries like China, Pakistan, India and Chile

In Pakistan, UNDP is working with the government to create an institution to address GLOF risks and other issues affecting communities and livelihoods in northern Pakistan and help them respond.

Ironically, though Nepal remained closed to the outside world till the 1950s and was affected by a 10-year communist insurgency from 1996, it remains the most open to surveys, research and disaster mitigation projects.

Next year, UNDP will start a many-layered disaster risk management programme in Nepal that, among other things, will seek to reduce human and material losses from GLOFs in two mountain districts: Dolakha and Solukhumbu.

Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Mt Everest, has been using the iconic peak to draw global attention to the risks faced by its mountain community.

"In 2009, the then government of Nepal called a cabinet meeting at Kala Patthar (a 5,242 m high plateau at the foot of Mt Everest)," says Ghana S. Gurung, conservation programme director at World Wildlife Fund Nepal.

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