Sadly, if not unsurprisingly, it was very hard to find any information on how, over the past few hundred years, people have been increasingly settling in natural-disaster-prone areas.
New Orleans for instance — yes, it’s beautiful, but tall levees to the north and south are the only thing keeping water from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain from pouring into the center of the city. Besides levees, there is an intricate system of pumping stations and canals keep the land dry, even after heavy rainfall. Without this drainage system, much of the city would be engulfed in water. New Orleans occupies swampland created by millions of years’ worth of silt deposits from the Mississippi River. As a result, the ground is wet and spongy, and prone to flooding from rainfall and hurricanes.
Ironically, all the pumps, canals, and levees that work so hard to keep New Orleans above water are actually causing the city to sink at a rate of three feet per century. Some scientists predict that, by the year 2100, the “City That Care Forgot” will be under water.
Not only have we settled in disaster prone areas, but when things get bad because of Climate Change, we move to even worse areas. Last year, according to the United Nations, 210 million people — about three per cent of the global population — migrated between countries, and, in 2009, about 740 million people moved within countries.
“Millions will migrate into, rather than away from, areas of environmental vulnerability,” said , chief scientific advisor to the UK government, and head of the Foresight programme. “An even bigger policy challenge will be the millions who are trapped in dangerous conditions and unable to move to safety.”
The scientists, in a report entitled Migration and Global Environmental Change, found that between 114 million and 192 million more people were likely to be living in floodplains in urban areas of Africa and Asia by 2060, partly as a result of climate change.
An important thing to keep in mind is that this is not something that is going to happen several hundred or thousands of years from now. It’s happening now, and if we don’t do something, we’re going to be going downhill fast within the next 30 years.
Image Credit goes to Wesleyan University and Columbia University.