So many cities are already facing the perils of climate change that it is difficult to establish a measure of who's got it worst. Do we rank them by number of recent weather-related deaths, exposed population, exposed assets ... or is it all just down to a popularity contest? Regardless of the gauge, it's all looking pretty bad, and whether it's through trial by water or trial by heat, there would be few cities in the world that aren't feeling some effect.
It isn't just the populations that are feeling the burden, however, its also the constructed environment. With recent news of severe floods around the world in regions like Senegal and Venice, awareness now turns to climate change's effect on our cultural sites. Although a number of spots on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger are included for destruction from climate change, there are many others that are facing very similar fates. We take a look at some of the precious cultural sites that are most affected by rising water and floods.
The current flood in Venice. Image via The Telegraph.
Much of Europe has recently been hit by enormous downpours, flooding cities and causing evacuations in Pisa. Although it is obviously not unusual for Venice to also be flooded this time of year (it is the acqua alta period, after all), the rising sea levels combined with the city's sinking foundations are drowning it faster than previously thought. The World Heritage site is constantly under repair as a result, but more drastic measures may need to be taken seeing as it is estimated to disappear by another 3 inches in the next 20 years.
Adobe construction of Chan Chan. Image via Inca Age.
Chan Chan, Peru
Although El Nino is a normal part of the weather cycle in regions of coastal Peru, climate change could see such storms worsen over the years. Repeats of storms such as those of the 1998 season (which saw 120 inches of rain flood the region), will put many heritage and archaeological sites in jeopardy. The World Heritage site of Chan Chan, a 1,000-year-old city made of unfired mud bricks, is already listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger due to erosion. And, according to University of Maine archaeologist Dan Sandweiss, "There's the potential for greater destruction if the pace of El Nino events increases." The nine citadels of Chan Chan formed the capital of the Chimu Kingdom, the largest city of pre-Columbian America.
Temple of Karnak, Image via Get In Travel.
Great Temples, Luxor, Egypt
The combination of climate change, the aging sewage system, and the increase in farming have seen ground water in the area around Luxor drastically rise. The increased salt content has therefore started to eat away at the soft sandstone of the World Heritage monuments, despite them having stood strong for some 4,000 years.
Flooded Chaiwattanaram Temple, 2011. Image via The Atlantic.
The 2011 floods in Thailand saw waters rise up to 18 feet and kill more than 200 people in the region. The World Heritage site of the ancient city of Ayutthaya was also hit incredibly hard, suffering permanent damage as the The Chi and Tha Chin rivers overflowed their banks. Regular repeats of such floods would mean that the city could fall into an irreparable state.
Rice Terraces in the Philippines. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Rice Terraces, Philippines
The super typhoon that recently hit the Philippines pushed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to issue an urgent warning about the dire consequences of climate change—almost 4,500 people were confirmed dead just from Super Typhoon Haiyan. The ceaseless deluges also severely damage the landscape of the country, with precious regions like the Rice Terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras UNESCO World Heritage Site slipping away. Despite efforts, the 2000-year old terraces are now yet on the World Heritage Danger list.
A site at Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands in California. Image via Smithsonian.
Channel Islands, off the California Coast
Although not a world heritage site, the Channel Islands are an important archaeological site that provides evidence for how humans settled in the Americas. Contrary to the Bering Strait theory, many researchers now believe that early settlers hopped from island to island—all the way from Siberia to the California Coast, as exemplified by the Channel Islands. However, due to rising sea levels, the site has begun to erode, losing about 1 meter per 10 years, (which is huge considering these sites are more than 10,000 years old). The digs have now become a race against time.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Island of Saint-Louis, Senegal
The UN recently released a warning that flooding caused by climate change in Senegal had crossed into a state of emergency, some cities cited as being under water for ten months a year. St Louis, located at the mouth of the Senegal River, is perhaps one of the worst-hit regions and in 2008, Alioune Badiane of UN-Habitat claimed that it was “the city most threatened by rising sea levels in the whole of Africa”. The capital of Senegal from 1872 to 1957, St Louis is prized for its examples of distinctive planning and architecture.
Sixty Dome Mosque in Bagerhat. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat, Bangladesh
Rising sea levels in Bangladesh—particularly in the Bay of Bengal, around Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Jessore, and Magura—are having a dire effect on agriculture as the rising soil salinity (among other factors) is destroying crops. This same change in the land is also threatening the ancient mosque city Khalifatabad, located where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers meet. The city of 50 square kilometers is an exceptional example of early Islamic infrastructure and monuments, displaying the only known examples of the Khan-e-Jahan architectural style. The extreme salt levels in the soil and atmosphere is threatening the physical integrity of the structures.