Global warming poses an alarming risk for South Asia, in terms of ecological disturbance, environmental degradation, loss of habitats and also an unforeseen impact on the livelihood of staggering 800 million people, as per a recent study by World Bank.
Every year average temperature is rising and 2017 was the third consecutive hottest year on record. So the situation is definitely worrisome and should draw our immediate attention. However, its magnitude is more pronounced in South Asia, as compared to other regions.
South Asia houses more poor than any region in the world, including sub-Saharan Africa and is the flashpoint of multiple crises. The turbulence in this region would only exacerbate as global warming looms large.
The crowded ‘Hotspots’
The World Bank study focuses on the rainfall patterns in the 6 countries of South Asia –India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan – and the everyday increasing temperature, which is also associated with decreasing rainfall. On the other hand, the study has also identified ‘Hotspots’, where the consequences of global warming would adversely affect the maximum number of people and lead to catastrophes like heavy flooding, drought. All of these ‘Hotspots’ – Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, and Mumbai – are densely populated metropolises with a combined population of more than 50 million. These cities face the risk of getting submerged in the next century. A lot of other cities also face the risk of becoming ‘Hotspots’.
‘Hotspots’ are marked by overpopulation, widespread inequality, poor infrastructure, low consumption patterns and other factors that stymie socio-economic development.
The study establishes a correlation between deterioration in poverty and increasing global warming. South Asian countries are emphasizing on poverty alleviation, increasing wages, raising the standard of living and achieving a high economic growth rate that would enable their transition towards development and empower their populace.
However, as the damning World Bank Study has clearly pointed, none of this would be possible until environmental concerns are addressed, greenhouse emission is reduced and serious steps are taken to reduce global warming. For the developing world, the question is both of sustainability and survival. And global warming should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a complex phenomenon that is inextricably intertwined with motley socio-economic factors.
Impact on people and nations
The World Bank Study says, “The symptoms of climate change are multifaceted, including sea-level rise, shifts in average temperature and precipitation patterns, and increasing frequency of extreme events such as storms and droughts. These climatic changes have profound effects on societies, such as greater frequency of flooding events, more year-to-year variability in agriculture productivity, a greater demand for water (which may be more difficult to meet), and increased instances of heat-related medical problems”
For Instance, in the Pakistani industrial city of Karachi, the higher temperature would lead to lower labor productivity and public health problems. In other agrarian belts of South Asia, a drastic rise in temperature would overburden farmers and lead to a decrease in agricultural productivity that may lead to a famine in the worst case.
Extent of the problem
Across South Asia, annual average temperatures are expected to rise by 2.2 degrees Celsius by 2050 relative to 1981 to 2010 conditions under a high emissions scenario and to 1.6 degrees Celsius, if steps are taken. While this may seem like a difference of less than a few degrees, it would put more than 400 million people out of risk.
Coordinated support, incentivizing drought-resistant crops, providing timely forecasts, creating public awareness about the implications of global warming, and promoting water conservation are some of the measures that should be taken to mitigate this risk before it’s too late and we lose everything.