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Dr. Disaster

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Researcher and professor at the Institute of Geography and Regional Planning, of the University of Lisbon, he is also responsible for the unique study about the course of the natural disasters that hit Portugal.

What is the importance of the "disaster" for the country?
José Zêzere : The starting point of this project was a proposal to the Foundation for Science and Technology in 2008 / 09 and started in 2010 , resulted from a need to have data quality , reliable and relevant information on spates, floods, slopes and mass movements, for example, mudslides and landslides, as happens with some frequency in the islands. And yet, have a good record of events that occur over a period of time in order to know a number of things: What parts of the country are more frequent occurrences of these problems? Also realize if there was a significant temporal relevance? This is important later when we thought the definition of policy measures to tackle the problem. If they are growing in time or not? Know what the trend is in terms of consequences and whether or not there more people dying at the beginning of the nineteenth or twentieth? Therefore, our feeling is that the time we did had enough robust information available to make decisions. Which means that without this data we are likely to make more mistakes is much greater in the definition of measures, of mitigation, either preparing for disasters,

The study takes place between the dates of 1865 to 2010. Begins precisely in this date why?
JZ: The source of the database are the newspapers, means that we went to work with the information that you journalist produce, information was collected only in the newspapers, why in 1865? Because there were no daily newspapers prior to this date that we could use it for Continental Portugal. We used the reference of periodicals newspaper with a regular edition; we worked with the "daily news "that was the most important publication. More than half of the occurrences that we caught in the database "disaster" comes from this publication. 1865 is the year it was founded the "daily news".

This study includes only the continental country but excludes the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, where happen this kind of disaster, why?
JZ: Because the money we had available to develop the project only was enough to study the mainland. I could not include the Azores and Madeira. This is an issue, however, very important for both groups of islands that must be done with great accuracy and care. We now have all the conditions to extend the database with the same criteria that we had on the mainland, but we were not able to do that at the same time for the three portions of the territory.

There is a possibility in the near future to extend this project to the islands, or not?
JZ: At least the will and the idea to do it there and certainly we needed some features that are not expensive. Basically what my team and I need is to have a scholar student working allocated to the subject to divide his time between the reality of Madeira and the Azores and some file work that can be done also on the mainland. We are talking about a feature that is not expensive a scholarship costs 1,000 Euros per month and we are talking about 12 thousand Euros per year. From my point of view, and am biased, there are only gains that can be drawn from this type of information, such as for the civil protection that has access to this data so that it can reduce the risk.

Natural disasters in Portugal are or not increasing ?
JZ: No.
So the environmental conditions have no bearing on this matter?
JZ: It has. Everything has weight in this matter. What happens is that we don't have more people dying because of the floods, or slope instability than in the past, it does not exist and our data show this clearly. This does not mean that the climate is not changing. It always has weight.

But recently published scientific data were realizing that these climate changes are likely to worsen in the coming years.
JZ: That's what it means is that we have to prepare for the worst.

But have no weight or in case of rains and floods in Portugal?
JZ: In the case of the precipitation data does not. Who studies climate change provides for the mainland territory regarding rain an effect that may seem contradictory, but it is not, there will be less rain in total, but most concentrated in short periods , i.e. , that there is a greater possibility of more flash floods. This is not good news, neither this nor any. Therefore, if these changes are already reflected as statistics, I think not yet. It is not yet clear, but what the data show us clearly is the intervention of the territory and especially the mistakes that are being made in terms of its organization.

So what we see here, which weighs on the data results referring to the death and damage to property are due mainly because of human intervention.
JZ: Yes, and in some cases inadequate.

You said that one of the points is the construction. So what fails in general?
JZ: What failure in terms of construction is the correct choice of sites to build properly? A selection taking into account of course the function that the building projected will have, i.e. building in waterlines is not good solution, those who choose to do so make a brutal increase in risk exposure, while there is no rain, while the flow of the stream does not increase, nothing happens, but there is a time that will overflow as happened in Madeira in 2010 and then you pay the bill, as we did, with social, human and economic costs.

One of the conclusions of "disaster" is the largest number of occurrences occurs along river basins, with particular emphasis in Lisbon, why?
JZ: As I said earlier, by exposure.

For many people occurring cities?
JZ: Yes misfits and construction sites, not only in Madeira.

The Algarve appears in the data of more recent data.
JZ: Yes, because the construction is newer. The increase in construction in the Algarve is associated with tourism and starts after the 70's, in most cases, the Algarve resort has only 40 years, and Madeira has started earlier.

So what are the clear advantages for risk managers of this kind of information?
JZ: First of all get to know, showed and signaled clearly, particularly for civil protection, where in every county there was an incident in the past and have this information available for free to all sites of the country. All municipalities can get this information from their area and can check the sites where there a dead or people evacuated, because in these things there is an old principle where a disaster has happened will happen again , is a matter of raining as the same as before. This helps, because they know where are the places of risk, know exactly where are marked on the map all the areas in which it were floods and landslide slopes. Civil protection has an obligation to work in advance and get people out of these sites. The houses will not be so easy to save, we have no money to do so, we have to get out potential victims at the moment is about to happen a certain rainfall, is a must.

But, all these data should not already include in the municipal master plans, through the so-called risk maps that even included indexes construction?
JZ: But most cases are not.

You also said that all this information is important for people, how they can decode the?
JZ: People can learn. Knowing what a flood is, I do not think the average citizen is so uninformed that has little capacity to grasp information that concerns them. When they feel that may be useful or indicative they collect such data. Citizens can also access this information. In some cases we have problems because our state is paternalistic and think it's a technical issue that must be resolved by accredited institutions and the public participation is low. Just think about it if all people were more informed , if they knew if they were shown the danger of certain sites regularly , and our aim is that there is a greater risk culture in people, so advanced that they themselves will to refuse to buy homes in those sites , it would resolved the risk . There could be entrepreneurs, ultimately, interested in building and mayors willing to allow it, but if the citizens of that same locality been more enlightened will refuse to buy. Thus, the market itself would adjust to reality and will not build there. This is the ideal setting.

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