24 February 2009

environmental management systems

An environmental management system (EMS) like all management systems involves planning, executing, checking and acting. Within an EMS, there are five steps to consider which are:
- establishing an environmental policy
- planning and preparation
- implementation and operation
- checking and corrective action
- management review

Sustainable development, according to the Stern Review brings with it adaptation and an ‘adaptation policy is crucial for dealing with the unavoidable impacts of climate change’. How we deal with adaptation or essentially change is dependent upon the management system used.

Under the adaptation policy, local benefits will be realized without long lead times. According to the review, adaptation brings with it ‘overall development, better disaster management and emergency responses’. The following example I use to demonstrate an effective EMS demonstrates diversification, flexibility and human capital.

An EMS would take into consideration all the five points as mentioned above. Using the example of the devastating effects of the December 2004 tsunami, I intend to demonstrate how an EMS can result in the adaptation policy mentioned in the Stern Review. In the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) was set up.

The tsunami left 230,000 people dead or missing, irreparable damage to structures and collapse of whole industries in the countries affected. The most severely affected countries were Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Apart from loss of lives, biodiversity in the surrounding areas was affected, most notably, coral reefs and mangrove forests. It has been estimated that building up infrastructure in these countries will take about five years, up to a decade. Many analysts claimed that the disaster would have been mitigated if there had been an effective warning system in place, citing the well established Hawaii based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center which operates in the Pacific Ocean.

As a result of this, it was decided in a United Nations conference held in Kobe, Japan in 2005 that a TWS would be set up in the Indian Ocean to serve as a warning system. Preparations for the TWS started in early 2005 and the TWS was activated in 2006.

The TWS consisted of seismic gauges that detected earthquakes and also sea-based instruments like pressure recorders in the deep ocean and tide gauges monitoring sea-level at the coast. The Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) system uses buoys and sensors stationed far out to sea. The advantage of the DART system is that it detects a tsunami far out in the sea and therefore gives enough warning time for evacuation purposes and emergency responses.

Germany worked on a joint project with Indonesia to put in place 10 of these buoys, the first two of which were installed in November 2005. Until the Indian Ocean system has been fully developed, centers in Japan and Hawaii are forwarding alerts to countries in the region. There are 70 Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) stations along the Indian Ocean and before the tsunami they were used to measure the sea level for long-term climate change studies, and their data was transmitted only periodically. Now they are being upgraded to send real-time data to the newly set up tsunami centers.

Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN's scientific and cultural organization, said the nations involved should be "justly proud of having done all this and much more". There are 26 national tsunami information centers receiving information from 25 new seismographic stations. There are also three deep-ocean sensors to detect and report tsunamis. He said the system would suffer if there was no coordination between the different nations. "The open and free exchange of data and the full interoperability of national systems is absolutely crucial for success," he said.

The TWS demonstrates adequately that an adaptation policy is the extension of a good development practice. In this particular example, the TWS contributes effectively towards overall development, better disaster management and emergency responses. The IOTWS diversifies from the TWS set up in the Pacific Ocean. There were interim measures in place before it was fully set up and this demonstrated the flexibility of the system. The system relies heavily on coordination between nations and the people involved.

Management systems are set up after careful consideration and a need-to-have basis. The IOTWS should have been anticipated, considering the fact that the area is high in seismic activity. The people living in the coastal areas received no warning before the tsunami struck resulting in the devastating effects and loss of life. Furthermore, destruction of mangrove forests around the coastal areas is said to have amplified the impacts of the tsunami, which stresses that conservation of local biodiversity is important. Research has shown mangroves are able to absorb between 70-90% of the energy from a normal wave. Another effective barrier is the coral reefs around the coastal line, healthy reefs recovered faster than reefs which were previously destroyed thus supporting local fishing industries.

In this situation, for a disaster-management system to be effective, apart from monitoring and the initial set-up, it has to be constantly upgraded to beat off new threats. The local government and people have to be educated on the system and the need for conservation has to be stressed.

An effective management system should take into account preservation of biodiversity, local sustainable industries and economy. An EMS needs to be set up in a way that it benefits the habitants of a community, taking feedback from them and research organizations. Conservation laws alone are not enough, enforcing them is equally important – the same is true with a viable EMS.

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