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Climate of emergency in South Asia

Basu Gautam

Basu Gautam

Climate of emergency in South Asia

Hundreds of families of Baraha Municipality of Sunsari and Belka Municipality of Udayapur have been displaced after the Saptakoshi river gushed into human settlements following incessant rainfall

The South Asian region, which has a variety of climatic zones and physical topographies, is naturally isolated by the massive Himalayas in the north, the vast Indian Ocean in the south, the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Bay of Bengal in the east. Unusual monsoon patterns brought on by climate change have recently had a significant impact on the region, resulting in phenomena like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), forest fires, mountain and coastal soil erosion. Pakistan’s devastating floods are a case in point. Due to these catastrophes and crises, South Asian nations must work together more closely to combat the ecological catastrophe.

In recent decades, temperatures of the Indian Ocean sea surface have risen roughly by 1 °C. As a result of the warmer atmosphere’s capacity to hold more water vapor, South Asia’s humidity levels and rainfall have increased noticeably. Furthermore, during La Nina, rainfall tends to be heavier than usual, increasing the likelihood of floods in South Asia. The periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures across the east-central equatorial Pacific is referred to as La Nina.  Millions are also affected by severe and persistent heat waves that strike large portions of Pakistan and India routinely. A shortage of food and energy has resulted from events like glacier melting and glacial outbursts. The distinctive tropospheric jet streams over South Asia that are associated with the monsoon and westerly disturbances also impact and alter atmospheric circulation.

Impact on South Asian countries

Rising temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau are causing glacial retreat, resulting in decrease in water levels in South Asia’s major rivers, including the Ganges. Heat waves are becoming more common in India and Pakistan as a result of climate change. Severe landslides and floods are expected to become more common in Nepal, India and Pakistan. Afghanistan’s temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees Celsius since 1950 causing severe drought conditions, which may worsen further.  Both Pakistan and Afghanistan may face further desertification and land degradation as the frequency of drought increases due to global warming.

Glacial retreat has impacted some of the major rivers in Pakistan, which is grappling with a severe climate disaster, with an early monsoon causing devastating floods. Bangladesh is vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to a combination of geographic (such as its flat, low, and delta-facing topography) and socioeconomic factors (such as its high population density). Climate change is expected to cost Bangladesh two percent of its annual GDP by 2050, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Due to severe climate change, many of Bhutan’s glaciers are also rapidly melting, increasing the frequency and severity of GLOFs. Many low-lying islands in the Maldives are vulnerable to sea level rise, with some projections indicating that the country will become uninhabitable in the coming years if appropriate measures are not taken immediately. In Nepal, climate change is causing wide variations in weather patterns as well as an increase in extreme weather events. Drought conditions in Nepal during the pre-monsoon season of 2016 caused a large number of forest fires. Unlike many developed countries, the people of South Asia are vulnerable to environmental problems due to a lack of industrialization and high reliance on agriculture. When a country’s economy becomes weak due to external, environmental reasons, its security gets adversely affected.

Cooperation is essential

A fair and secure regional climate agreement demands enormous cross-border effort to reduce risks to the poorest people’s lives and livelihoods. In addition, because environmental challenges do not respect international borders, South Asian countries must engage in strong environmental diplomacy. Bringing these issues to the international stage is a critical first step. Countries should use the South Asian Regional Cooperation Forum to exert international pressure and obtain financial assistance. The establishment of a South Asia Climate Fund (SACF) to support adaptation and mitigation efforts of the countries concerned can be one such example.

Furthermore, with the exception of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, all other South Asian countries share a common border with India. This geographical dependence has an impact on these countries’ internal and external decision-making capacity. This chasm becomes difficult to bridge in terms of regional cooperation on critical issues like climate change. Geopolitics has undermined the concept of “one South Asia” in recent years. Combating climate change is difficult because national borders are arbitrary. They are ruled by politics and frequently disregard ecological boundaries and corridors. Mutual diplomatic animosity has had a significant impact on regional cooperation.

It is also crucial to implement improved internal policies. Politicians should consider possible environmental impacts while formulating laws and strategies for industrialization and development. The public should be better informed about the adverse effects of environmental degradation, which can be achieved through educational programs. Where illiteracy is widespread, the media can play an excellent role in developing environmental awareness. Raising awareness can improve citizen engagement in conservation initiatives, enabling them to hold their elected officials and other government agencies accountable.

The way forward

A rapid and uncontrolled urbanization of the region coupled with population growth means increase in average temperatures, surge in the frequency of heat waves, droughts and floods, sea level rise, resurgence of diseases and loss of biodiversity, among others. The South Asian climate crisis requires both global and regional cooperation for a solution.

We cannot act alone and make a difference in a world that is more intensely interconnected than ever before, especially when it comes to environmental issues. The political sphere is frequently surrounded by issues of war and peace. Policymakers are preoccupied with abstract ideas like order, power balance, and economic interdependence. The South Asian region is no exception to this. The challenges linked with climate change and environmental degradation are the most serious of the major difficulties. If not handled immediately, these challenges have the potential to spark a large-scale humanitarian disaster in the region.

The author is the President and Founder of Lumbini World Peace Forum