Tag Archives: South Asia

Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets fill up.

LONDON, 5 August, 2021 − In a world of climate change, the flood risk will be more intense and more frequent, presenting higher danger to ever more people in a greater number of countries.

In this century alone, the global population has increased by 18%. But the number of people exposed to damage and death by rising waters has increased by more than 34%.

This finding is not based on mathematical simulations powered by weather data. It is based on direct and detailed observation. Researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at more than 12,700 satellite images, at a resolution of 250 metres, of 913 large flood events between the years 2000 and 2015.

During those years, and those floods, water spilled from the rivers to inundate a total of 2.23 million square kilometres. This, considered as one event, would cover a total area larger than Saudi Arabia. And during those first 15 years of the century, the number of people directly affected by the floods was at least 255m, and possibly 290m.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need”

In those 15 years, the numbers of people in the way of the ever more devastating floods rose by at least 58m, and possibly as many as 86m. That’s a rise of as much as 24%.

It will get worse. According to the researchers, climate change and the multiplication of human numbers will extend the reach of flood risk: 32 nations already experience ever more flooding. By 2030, another 25 countries will have joined them.

The humans caught up in the sickening flow of mud, sewage and silt spilling from the rising rivers will mostly be in south and south-east Asia − think of the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mekong Rivers − and many of them will have migrated to the danger zones: poverty and population pressure will leave them no choice.

None of this should come as a surprise. In the past 50 years, according to a new compilation by the World Meteorological Organisation, weather, climate and water were implicated in 50% of all disasters of any kind; in 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all economic losses. Floods have claimed 58,700 lives in the last five decades. Between them, floods and storms − the two are often linked − cost Europe at least US$377bn in economic losses.

Higher flooding frequency

And things will certainly get much worse for Europe as global average temperatures continue to rise in response to ever higher greenhouse gas emissions from ever greater use of fossil fuels. That is because what had once been relatively rare events will grow in force and frequency.

More heat means more evaporation, and a warmer atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapour. So it will rain harder. And the arrival, say researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, of intense, slow-moving storms that precipitate devastating flash floods of the kind that swept Belgium and Germany this summer will by the close of the century become 14 times more frequent.

“Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace,” said Hayley Fowler, a climate scientist at Newcastle University in the UK, and one of the researchers.

“This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need.” − Climate News Network

Monsoon changes threaten Asia and warn the world

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

Half a billion people may face heat of 56°C by 2100

Take today’s heat, apply mathematical logic and consider a murderously hot future, 56°C by 2100, for hundreds of millions.

LONDON, 29 March, 2021 − Many millions of people − among them some of the world’s poorest − will be exposed to potentially lethal temperatures on a routine basis. At worst, the mercury could reach 56°C by 2100.

Even if the world keeps its most ambitious promise and contains global heating to no more than 1.5°C above the global average normal for most of human history, the future looks distinctly menacing.

And if the world doesn’t quite get there, and annual average temperatures − already 1°C above the historic norm − rise to 2°C, then vast numbers of people in South Asia will find themselves exposed to deadly conditions at least three times as often.

As the researchers make this sober warning in one journal, researchers on the same day in yet another journal make a simple prediction about the cost of ignoring such warnings altogether, to go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more tracts of the natural world.

If this happens, then people in the Middle East and North Africa will be hit by a new category of thermal menace: the arrival of super-extreme and ultra-extreme heatwaves.

Target far exceeded

Which means that by the end of this century, more than half a billion people could be exposed to temperatures as high as 56°C, not just for days, but for weeks. The hottest temperature so far ever recorded on Earth was 54°C, in Death Valley, California in 2020.

In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations met in Paris and vowed to contain global heating by the century’s end to “well below” a maximum of 2°C. In fact, the less explicit intention was to contain the mercury’s rise to no higher than 1.5°C.

So much for the vow: the latest evidence is that, on the basis of the national declared intentions so far, global temperatures will rise far higher than the 2°C target. And summer − defined as the hottest 25% of the year − could by the century’s end last almost six months.

A new computational study in Geophysical Research Letters warns that the 1.5°C target could be passed by 2040, in just two decades. And with higher average temperatures over longer periods, there will inevitably be higher than average extremes of temperature, more often, for longer periods, and over wider ranges.

“The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

The outcome could be devastating for the countries of South Asia − India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma among them − as the thermometer rises and the humidity increases. Researchers have warned for years that at a certain level of heat and humidity − meteorologists call it the “wet bulb” temperature − humans cannot labour productively.

That level is 32°C. At a wet bulb temperature of 35°C, humans cannot expect to survive for long. Some parts of the region have already felt such temperatures with a global average rise of just over 1°C: in 2015, at least 3500 people in Pakistan and India died from causes directly related to extreme heat.

At 1.5°C the consequences could be significantly worse, and at 2°C, the scientists say, the hazard will have been amplified by a factor of 2.7: almost threefold. South Asia could later this century be home to more than two billion people: of the working population, 60% are now engaged in agricultural labour out of doors, and many millions live in crowded cities and in severe poverty. The region should prepare itself for a dangerously hot future.

“The future looks bad for South Asia,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the authors, “but the worst can be avoided by containing warming to as low as possible. The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

That heat extremes are potentially lethal, that the people of South Asia are potentially at risk, and that an enormous proportion of the planet’s population will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures is not in dispute: the questions now are about the degree of danger, and its extent.

Ultra-extreme heat

Once again, the statisticians have been at work, and the answer in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science is: it will be much worse, over a vaster region and for a very large number of people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Their calculations suggest that temperatures could reach as high as 56°C, and even more than 60° C in sweltering cities. Such heat extremes could endure for weeks.

So within the lifetimes of those alive today, about half the region’s population − that is, about 600 million people − could face extreme temperatures of around 56°C by 2100 every summer.

The researchers put their message with unusual forthrightness in the headline: “Business-as-usual will lead to super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa.” − Climate News Network

Take today’s heat, apply mathematical logic and consider a murderously hot future, 56°C by 2100, for hundreds of millions.

LONDON, 29 March, 2021 − Many millions of people − among them some of the world’s poorest − will be exposed to potentially lethal temperatures on a routine basis. At worst, the mercury could reach 56°C by 2100.

Even if the world keeps its most ambitious promise and contains global heating to no more than 1.5°C above the global average normal for most of human history, the future looks distinctly menacing.

And if the world doesn’t quite get there, and annual average temperatures − already 1°C above the historic norm − rise to 2°C, then vast numbers of people in South Asia will find themselves exposed to deadly conditions at least three times as often.

As the researchers make this sober warning in one journal, researchers on the same day in yet another journal make a simple prediction about the cost of ignoring such warnings altogether, to go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more tracts of the natural world.

If this happens, then people in the Middle East and North Africa will be hit by a new category of thermal menace: the arrival of super-extreme and ultra-extreme heatwaves.

Target far exceeded

Which means that by the end of this century, more than half a billion people could be exposed to temperatures as high as 56°C, not just for days, but for weeks. The hottest temperature so far ever recorded on Earth was 54°C, in Death Valley, California in 2020.

In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations met in Paris and vowed to contain global heating by the century’s end to “well below” a maximum of 2°C. In fact, the less explicit intention was to contain the mercury’s rise to no higher than 1.5°C.

So much for the vow: the latest evidence is that, on the basis of the national declared intentions so far, global temperatures will rise far higher than the 2°C target. And summer − defined as the hottest 25% of the year − could by the century’s end last almost six months.

A new computational study in Geophysical Research Letters warns that the 1.5°C target could be passed by 2040, in just two decades. And with higher average temperatures over longer periods, there will inevitably be higher than average extremes of temperature, more often, for longer periods, and over wider ranges.

“The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

The outcome could be devastating for the countries of South Asia − India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma among them − as the thermometer rises and the humidity increases. Researchers have warned for years that at a certain level of heat and humidity − meteorologists call it the “wet bulb” temperature − humans cannot labour productively.

That level is 32°C. At a wet bulb temperature of 35°C, humans cannot expect to survive for long. Some parts of the region have already felt such temperatures with a global average rise of just over 1°C: in 2015, at least 3500 people in Pakistan and India died from causes directly related to extreme heat.

At 1.5°C the consequences could be significantly worse, and at 2°C, the scientists say, the hazard will have been amplified by a factor of 2.7: almost threefold. South Asia could later this century be home to more than two billion people: of the working population, 60% are now engaged in agricultural labour out of doors, and many millions live in crowded cities and in severe poverty. The region should prepare itself for a dangerously hot future.

“The future looks bad for South Asia,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the authors, “but the worst can be avoided by containing warming to as low as possible. The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

That heat extremes are potentially lethal, that the people of South Asia are potentially at risk, and that an enormous proportion of the planet’s population will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures is not in dispute: the questions now are about the degree of danger, and its extent.

Ultra-extreme heat

Once again, the statisticians have been at work, and the answer in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science is: it will be much worse, over a vaster region and for a very large number of people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Their calculations suggest that temperatures could reach as high as 56°C, and even more than 60° C in sweltering cities. Such heat extremes could endure for weeks.

So within the lifetimes of those alive today, about half the region’s population − that is, about 600 million people − could face extreme temperatures of around 56°C by 2100 every summer.

The researchers put their message with unusual forthrightness in the headline: “Business-as-usual will lead to super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa.” − Climate News Network

South Asia slow to act on water threats

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously. NEW DELHI, 7 July, 2014: Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change. A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population. Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector. Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”. Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report. For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero. In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation. However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages.. And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country. “Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”. Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation. Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said. The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods. They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on environmental and developmental issues. She has worked at the Press Trust of India, India’s premier news agency, and the Hindustan Times, one of the leading national daily newspapers in India. Her journalistic achievements include a national award for environmental reporting, an award for reporting on health issues, and a Rural Reporting Fellowship.

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously. NEW DELHI, 7 July, 2014: Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change. A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population. Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector. Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”. Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report. For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero. In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation. However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages.. And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country. “Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”. Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation. Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said. The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods. They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on environmental and developmental issues. She has worked at the Press Trust of India, India’s premier news agency, and the Hindustan Times, one of the leading national daily newspapers in India. Her journalistic achievements include a national award for environmental reporting, an award for reporting on health issues, and a Rural Reporting Fellowship.