Are we ready for extreme weather?

RecyclingLooking at the pictures that have come out of the coverage of hurricane Sandy I cannot help but think 2 things:

1. Many of the scenes of the housing lots that have had homes swept away, particularly of Staten island and Hoboken, remind me of the scenes I witnessed in Japan when I was there to document the recovery of the Tohoku tsunami disaster. It is chilling to see the same scene played out somewhere else and be reminded that despite whatever we may think, nature will always remind us who is in charge.

Current NY governor Andrew Cuomo during an interview(link) earlier this week that there needs to be stronger leadership on climate change, saying that storms like Sandy which used to be once in 100 years are now happening every 2 years. Cuomo more or less said that the problem needs to be dealt with today because in the long run it will not be sustainable economically. 

The governor has pointed out (link) that New York does not typically have hurricanes or floods and has in the past "designed its infrastructure without anticipating water coming over the banks and we've now flooded the whole tunnel system...road tunnels, subway tunnels, and we have beneath the ground in Manhattan 10-20 storeys of infrastructure, so now we have the novel problem of how do you pump out this infrastructure. The water is in the tunnels, the electrical system is also in the tunnels and the trains run in the tunnels. so you can't turn on the power till you pump out the water and you can't run the trains till you turn on the power. Outside of Manhattan we have loss of power because of downed trees by the high winds."

Adding to this pundit Rachel Maddow said that New York City has always been the city that's at the forefront of changing its infrastructure in response to meeting environmental challenges and this trend shouldn't change thanks to Sandy. To cement her point she pointed out the historical lessons that New York City learned: Much of the city's above ground infrastructure and train system went underground after a severe winter storm paralyzed the city in 1888. Now the city will need to figure out how it can pump out a waterlogged underground system that houses its most crucial infrastructure and figure out whether staying underground will remain viable with all the possible flooding to come.

Estimates say that Sandy will cost the US $44 billion, and it has already cost New York City $200 million a day thanks to the city wide blackout and extensive flooding that occurred within its entire subway line and underground infrastructure left in Sandy's wake (link). 

New York City will need to figure out how can it have its lifeline stay underground and avoid what will be expected frequent flooding. New York City mayor's Michael Bloomberg's administration will have to make sweeping changes to its infrastructural plan and lead New York into the new normal of extreme weather change. New York will then live up to its reputation of  being a model in how a megacity will deal with the challenges of climate change Just like how it has been regarded a model in dealing with security in the wake of 9/11. 

Now...you might be asking how does this affect Singapore since we're practically so far away? Because everything I have just described can and could happen to us one day. We are already facing a flash flooding problem whenever it rains in Singapore. If that already is not sounding alarm bells in our minds then we are obviously living in denial.

Like New York, we are a city built around water and our prosperity came from the fact that we are positioned in a natural location to be a global port hub. Our city, our nation is shaped by the water that surrounds us. Which begs the question that arises out of Sandy: Is our metropolis ready to answer the challenge of climate change? What happens when our relationship with that water changes fundamentally? Are we prepared to face a changing environment?

My answer: I don't know. But we badly need to seriously start looking at our city and ask ourselves: Are we ready for the new normal?

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