To the Brink: Climate Change Will Increase Frequency and Severity of Disasters, Stress Food and Energy Production in South Asia

June 24, 2013

Turn Down the Heat II – Climate Extremes, Regional Impact and the Case for Resilience
  • Global temperatures have risen 0.8ºC since the pre-industrial age and could rise by 1.5 to 2ºC by 2050 if decisive action is not taken. This is expected to reduce food and energy production while increasing the regularity and severity of natural disasters.
  • South Asia, home to the greatest number of poor people in the world, is especially vulnerable due to its food and energy shortfalls along with increasing population, which will put greater stress on resources.
  • To reduce the impact of the worst effects, major investments in infrastructure including flood defenses, drought and heat resistant crops and improved water management will be necessary.

Severe flooding, prolonged droughts, heat extremes, reduced food and energy, and even islands inundated with seawater. These nightmare scenarios may become reality in South Asia by mid-century unless drastic action is taken.

The new report, “Turn Down the Heat II – Climate Extremes, Regional Impact and the Case for Resilience,” launched last week utilizes peer reviewed literature along with computer modeling to simulate climate change effects in the more climate change vulnerable regions of South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, which are home to the greatest number of the poor and most climate change vulnerable citizens.

South Asia’s expected population increase to 2.2 billion by 2050 from 1.6 billion people in 2010 will add additional stress on already stretched food and energy resources and production. The potential change in the regularity and impact of the all-important monsoon could precipitate a major crisis in the region.  In India, for example, an extreme wet monsoon that currently has a chance of occurring only once in 100 years is projected to occur every 10 years by the end of the century. Events like the devastating Pakistan floods of 2010, which affected more than 20 million people, could become more commonplace.

" We have a moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable people, standing in the path of climate-driven hardship. The report is a warning, and we have a duty to respond. "

Isabel Guerrero

World Bank South Asia Vice President

The region is already experiencing a warming climate that can be seen in warmer periods in India, increasing variability of the monsoon rainfall, intense rainfalls and an increase in the number of droughts. Droughts will especially affect northwestern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Nepal, glaciers will melt faster and threaten people’s access to water and energy supplies from hydropower.

Additionally, climate changes are not uniformly spread around the world; for example, the sea level rise is expected to be 10-15% higher in countries closer to the equator. This is especially problematic for low lying, coastal countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

For South Asia, the most significant climate risks with a warming of 2ºC include:

· Periods of droughts and intense rains will increase

· Frequency of unusually hot and extreme temperatures will increase, increasing death rates and reducing crop yields.   

· Water availability will be unreliable and limit energy production, both for hydropower and cooling of thermal power generation.

· Rising sea-levels, estimated to be 60 to 80cm in a 2ºC world, will increase flooding of deltas and coastal cities, which will destroy crops, increase disease and drowning, and destroy infrastructure

While the lives of everyone in the region will be altered by climate change, the harm caused by progressive global warming will fall hardest on the poor. Low crop yields and associated income loss from agriculture will continue the trend toward migration from rural to urban centers.

In cities, residents will suffer with temperatures magnified by the so-called “heat island effect” of urban environments. Safe drinking water will become increasingly constrained and alternatives, especially during and after flooding, are likely to contribute to greater water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhea.

To reduce the worst effects, major investments in infrastructure, flood defenses, drought and heat resistant crops are needed. The Bank is assessing how to respond to the threats and has started working on climate-smart agriculture (CSA), which is exploring pilot programs on millions of hectares utilizing technologies, practices and interventions that can directly reduce poverty and ensure food security by improving landscape and water management and raising yields.

“We have a moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable people, standing in the path of climate-driven hardship,” World Bank Vice President Isabel Guerrero said, “The report is a warning, and we have a duty to respond."

For a copy of Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience go to: https://climatechange.worldbank.org

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