A new study by scientists has shown that carbon pollution led to heavier rains and stronger floods in Greece and Libya this month but other human factors were responsible for “turning the extreme weather into a humanitarian disaster”.
According to the study from World Weather Attribution that used established methods but had not yet been peer-reviewed, global heating made the levels of rainfall that devastated the Mediterranean in early September up to 50 times more likely in Libya and up to 10 times more likely in Greece.
The network of scientists, who race to understand extreme weather events as soon as they happen, found that people were made more vulnerable to the rain because of factors such as building homes on floodplains, chopping down trees and not maintaining dams.
In her reaction, Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London and co-author of the report said that the Mediterranean is a hotspot of climate-change-fuelled hazards.
She added that while the researchers found it harder to quantify the role of climate change in this study than they did for recent wildfires and heatwaves, “there is absolutely no doubt that reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to all types of extreme weather is paramount for saving lives in the future”.
Recall that storm Daniel struck several Mediterranean countries in the first two weeks of September and dropped torrential rains. The floods killed dozens of people in Europe and Turkey. In Libya, where two ageing dams burst near the city of Derna and washed away entire neighbourhoods, the confirmed death toll stretches into the thousands.
The WWA report found that the amount of rain that fell in Libya was “far outside that of previously recorded events” and that up to 50% more rain fell than it would have in a world where people had not changed the climate.
It also found that the ongoing conflict and political instability in Libya compounded the effects of the flooding. Dams built in the 1970s had been poorly maintained. They may also have been designed based on short rainfall records that underestimated how strong an extreme storm could be.
The report found that people were at greater risk because the dams stored so much water and failed at night, leaving little time to escape.
“We urgently need to reduce exposure to flood risks,” said Maja Vahlberg from the Red Cross Red Crescent climate centre, a co-author of the report.
Story was adapted from the Guardian.