The inhabitants and economies of the developing world are more susceptible to extreme weather and climate events than the more developed world. Further, we argue that continual exposure to extreme events is a major reason for perpetual and structural poverty. We provide a number of examples of how environmental prediction may help to alleviate poverty by the provision of probabilistic forecasts to the groups, societies and decision makers that are best candidates for taking advantage of the forecasts through risk management. These efforts fall under the rubric of SHAZAM: Sustainability through HAzard anticipation and Mitigation. SHAZAM is based on the belief that a society that learns to deal effectively with hazards in the current climate will be most adept at dealing with future hazards that may be more frequent and intense.
We describe how short-term flood and tropical cyclone forecasts have been developed, disseminated and used in Bangladesh. Probabilistic forecasts with horizons of 10 days were used to change agricultural practices and planning, store food and household items and evacuate those in peril. For the first time in the history of Bangladesh, floods were anticipated well in advance in 2007 and 2008 as were the major tropical cyclones Aila, Sidr, Aila, Nargis and Thane. Broad actions were taken ahead of the floods grossing agricultural and household savings measured in units of annual income. We argue that environmental forecasts disseminated to an informed user community can reduce poverty by minimizing catastrophic loss induced by exposure to extreme events. We describe current extensions of this effort in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
It must be realized, however, that not all decisions can be made at the village or district level and that grand engineering schemes for water resource management require extensive planning and funding. But such planning requires the best estimates of frequency and severity of future flooding and droughts and the availability of fresh water in a world of changing climate and an exploding population. Based on imperfect models and scenarios of economic and population growth, we suggest that flood frequency and intensity will increase throughout this century in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yangtze catchments. However, irrespective of the climate change scenario chosen, the availability of fresh water in the latter half of the 21st century seems to driven by population increases that far outweigh climate change effects.