"Nature speaks to us, but we insist on not listening"
"The disasters that have happened should not be attributed to heavy rains, but to our improvisation"
A flooding at the point where Valle and Guaire Rivers meet (by the Universidad Bolivariana, south Caracas) is a more than likely scenario; but do Bello Monte residents have a contingency plan? Has management of El Recreo Mall, with its six underground floors, foreseen what would they do in case of that contingency?
Abraham Salcedo, Chief Engineer of the Department of Hydrometeorological Engineering at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and professor of Operational Hydrology, warns that "Nature is sending warning messages all the time, but we insist in not listening to them."
- What signs?
- At the UCV, we have developed studies that show that rainfall intensity has increased over the past 20 years, that is, it is raining more in a shorter time. And this happens in a city that is less permeable (because there is more concrete) and has increasingly compromised drainage systems. The stage is set for a huge flooding to occur and I do not see anybody doing anything but praying for that not to happen.
- Why is it raining more now?
- Watch out! I'm not saying that it is raining more, but that more rain is falling in shorter periods of time. The causes are difficult to determine, because at our Department we have rainfall records since 1950 only. Cajigal Observatory has 110 years of existence and that is not much either.
- 110 years is a short time?
- Climatologically speaking, it is a little more than nothing. Climatologic variations fluctuate every 200 or 300 years. Perhaps this rainfall corresponds to normal cycles, but knowing it for certain is impossible.
- And this increase in rainfall is not attributable to climate change: the more the heat, the more the rain?
- There has always been climate change, glaciations, thaw and slighter changes between them. What is discussed is if man is influencing these changes.
- What do you think?
- If we are releasing more CO2 to the atmosphere, it logically will have a repercussion. Are we provoking global warming or just favoring it to a negligible extent? That is an endless discussion.
- But 60 thousand homeless people only in Libertador Municipality due to rains in 2010 are justifiable?
- Absolutely not. And that is why I say that we are not acting accordingly. Yes, with 1,655 mm, 2010 was a record year in terms of rainfall intensity, according to our records, but rainfall was not abnormal. The previous year, 2009, the power crisis was also attributed to weather (in that case, little rain). We live in the Tropic; there will always be heavy rains and periods without any rain at all. You have to be prepared for each contingency.
- But people appear to believe that now climate is more changing than never...
- We have always coexisted with rain, with more rainy periods than others; nothing extraordinary is happening.
- And why are you forecasting a huge flooding at Bello Monte?
- It is not a forecast, but a scenario. And it will probably happen, because the city has increasingly less green areas to absorb water and because, as I was saying before, it is falling more rain in a shorter time.
- Are people more worried about climate now than before?
- Weather forecasts are more publicized in mass media, as well as rainfall records. But among people, I do not know... I would say that people are more alarmed, not more worried, because if they were worried, they would do something.
- And what would be the solution?
- For a very long time, people have been talking about fractures in the canalization of Guaire River by Plaza Venezuela, for instance, but nothing had been done until a recent flooding dragged a part of the road. The drainage systems have to be checked and maintained and contingency plans should be developed for communities close to the Guaire River, like Bello Monte and the lower parts of Petare and El Llanito (east Caracas). We all know what has to be done, but we'd rather look the other side.
Translated by Álix Hernández
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.