At Greenpeace, our hearts go out to all those affected by the floods in Queensland, Australia - ongoing in regional areas and cities now for months, but today sweeping through Queensland's capital city and my hometown, Brisbane.
The floods 'of biblical proportions' have been a tragedy for all those who have lost family members or their homes. I've been on the phone to my loved ones frequently in the last few days, checking that they are ok and feeling useless, unable to help from so far away. The floods have also been a disaster for farmers, for small-business owners, for Queensland's tourist industry and for (somewhat ironically) Queensland's epic coal-mining industry. The economic damage and repair costs are expected to top AU$13 billion.
As a former Brisbanite myself, the stories, videos and images coming from Queensland - via the official news, but also from my Facebook and twitter friends - has been heart-wrenching. I've seen the renowned cafe street in Rosalie near my old house go under, and icons of the 'river city' - restaurants, pontoons, boats - being wrenched from their moorings, sinking and floating out to sea.
But stories of the community have also been heartwarming and inspiring - neighbours are banding together to support and help each other. Strangers are helping the elderly to move themselves and their furniture to higher ground. Residents who are dry on the hills are taking in friends and family in low-lying suburbs which are expected to remain underwater until into the weekend.
Scientists are now cautiously describing a link between the climate change and an exaggerated La Nina event of the La Nina-El Nino cycle, which has always been a fixture of Australian weather patterns. While is it always impossible to say that any specific weather event has been 'caused by climate change', there is a clear indication that in a warming world, such weather extremes will become more common and severe.
Australia truly is "a land of drought and flooding rains". It's amazing to think that only two years ago, when I was a campaigner on water issues in Brisbane, the city was in the grip of a deep water shortage, brought on by many years of extended El Nino drought. The government had implemented a strong system of water-use restrictions, introduced water-recycling schemes and ran hugely successful public education efforts on the need to save water. Residents were warned that if it didn't rain in the next 6-8 months, the city would be out of drinkable sources - researchers were even investigating seemingly crazy plans for floating massive bags of fresh water down the East Australian Current from the tropical north of the state. Now, the tables have completely switched - dams are all overflowing, at more than 200 percent capacity. Check out the interactive graph of South-East Queensland dam levels at the bottom of this page.
Greenpeace is not a disaster-response organization, but we have a broad supporter base, and a responsibility to to reach out and inform our members. We are campaigning for solutions to climate change so that disasters like the Queensland floods - and the floods happening now in Sri Lanka, or last year's devastating floods in Pakistan - do not become an even more common part of our children's future.
Anna Keenan is a climate campaigner with Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, originally from Brisbane, Australia. She was relieved this morning to hear from a friend who had been missing for a week in the flooded area.
Photo by Sunrise on Seven on flickr.