South Asian floods in 2016 and its economic impacts
South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. Low-lying Bangladesh is at the frontline of at-risk countries from climate change and could suffer annual losses of up to 9.4 percent of its economy by the end of this century, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report for the region. It is estimated that Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka will see an average economic loss of around 1.8 percent of their collective annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, rising sharply to 8.8 percent by 2100 if the world continues on its current fossil fuel-intensive path. On the other hand if climate change slows down in line with the 2ï¿½C temperature rise under the Copenhagen-Cancun agreement, these countries will only lose 1.3 percent of their economies by 2050 and 2.5 percent by 2100.
Bangladesh and Maldives are low-lying and are therefore highly exposed to rising sea levels and uneven precipitation which will take a heavy toll on coastlines and the industries, like fishery or coastal farming that depend on the coasts or are located there like ports. The losses in Nepal could rise to 9.9 percent --- largely because of melting glaciers --- while they could total 8.7 percent in India, 6.6 percent in Bhutan, and 6.5 percent in Sri Lanka.
Losses in South Asia could be higher than those in the world at large and more than most other regions in Asia. If nothing is done to slow or reverse climate change the South Asian region will experience more floods in coming days. In 2016, the monsoon floods in South Asia have killed more than 600 people, as torrential rain has caused chaos in several countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, with many rescued from rising waters and housed in shelters. Some 3.2 million people across 16 districts of Bangladesh were affected by monsoon-induced floods. 42 deaths were recorded and 38 officially confirmed including mostly drowned minors, as nearly 7,400 people sought refuge in 69 flood shelters. Some 250,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. The affected populations are mainly in need of food, water and emergency shelter. Many families are living under the open sky and there are shortages of clean water, food, medicine and fuel.
In India more than 76 people died, 202 injured, 13,490 evacuated, and around 19,000 buildings partially damaged or destroyed in the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. 293 people have been killed, and 331 injured across Pakistan due to heavy rains and severe weather events in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore and other parts of the country. Landslides and floods triggered by days of monsoon rainfall affected parts of Western, Mid-Western and Central regions of Nepal. Local media report that over 75 people have died and as a result of floods or landslides. 301,602 people have been affected and 104 people are known to have died and 99 people are missing by the floods and landslides in Sri Lanka. An estimated 21,484 people displaced as a result of the disaster are living in camps and temporary accommodation including schools. These are reportedly the worst floods in 25 years with further heavy rains and flooding likely as the monsoon season continues.
The South Asians have been experiencing such devastating floods since long because of monsoon. Monsoon accounts for 70 percent of the rainfall in India and neighbouring countries between June and September. But longer dry periods and heavy rainfall within a short space of time during monsoon season in recent years have caused concern in South Asia. "Freshwater inputs from both rivers and a large amount of rainfall make the Bay of Bengal a rather unique place, and that is not properly being taken into account in the monsoon forecast models," said Professor Eric A D'Asaro, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, who has been researching the Bay of Bengal with scientists from India and the US. And that's one of the reasons they are not able to forecast what are known as monsoon breaks --- in other words the variations on monthly time scales through the monsoon season. The fresh water makes the surface layer of the ocean water much thinner and lighter and that reacts with the monsoon clouds more strongly whereas saline water would do so more slowly and that would have less effects on the monsoons.
The first among the countries to be affected by severe climate change is Bangladesh. Its sea level, temperature and evaporation are increasing, and the changes in precipitation and cross boundary river flows are already beginning to cause drainage congestion. There is a reduction in fresh water availability, disturbance of morphologic processes and a higher intensity of flooding and other such disasters. Bangladesh only contributes 0.1 percent of the world's emissions yet it has 2.4 percent of the world's population. In contrast, the United States makes up about five percent of the world's population, yet they produce approximately 25 percent of the pollution that causes global warming.
Generally, climate models agree that precipitation is by far the most important flooding factor in South Asia, which is under high influence of the monsoon weather system. Climate change can affect a large number of physical and atmospheric variables that are associated with flooding (e.g. changes in monsoon dates and extreme rainfall, the frequency and intensity of cyclones).
Surprisingly (and due to geography), the mean flooded area of Bangladesh is largest between 0-20C changes in global mean temperature. Therefore, with respect to flooding, a 20C rise in global mean temperature (from 1990 level) could be termed "dangerous climate change" for Bangladesh in particular and South Asia in general. A 45 cm rise in sea level would inundate approximately 11 percent of Bangladesh, displacing large coastal populations (climate refugees).
South Asia's vulnerability to these and future disasters is profound, principally for reasons of population and poverty. The majority of South Asian countries are low- or lower-middle income countries that already struggle to support the daily needs of their growing populations. Because poorer households dedicate more of their budgets to food, they are the most sensitive to weather-related shocks that can make daily staples unaffordable.
The destruction, that flooding could wreak in South Asia's low-lying and urban areas, is cruelly complemented by the effects that drought and changes in seasonal rainfall will have on agriculture. Extreme heat is already disrupting the growing season for regions in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Wheat production in the Indian portion of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, a fertile area that also encompasses parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh, may decrease by up to 50 percent by 2100, harming the hundreds of millions of people who rely on it for sustenance.r
Masum Al Jaki is Deputy Manager, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF)