Warming Climate to Hit South Asia Hard with Extreme Heat, Floods & Disease, World Bank Report Says

June 19, 2013

Effects expected from projected rise in temperature, worse effects if warming is bigger

Washington DC, June 19, 2013—An expected 2°C rise in the world’s average temperatures in the next decades threatens South Asia’s dense urban populations with extreme heat, flooding, and disease and could trap millions of people in poverty across the region, according to a new scientific report released today by the World Bank Group.

Depicting life in a not-too-distant future shaped by already present warming trends, the report warns that even 20 to 30 years from now, shifting rain patterns could leave some areas under water and others without enough water for drinking, irrigation or power generation. South Asia is already experiencing a warming climate, the report says, 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 north-western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Nepal, glaciers will melt faster and threaten people’s access to water and energy supplies from hydropower.

“South Asia would be very affected by a warming climate,” said Isabel Guerrero, Regional Vice President for South Asia at the World Bank. “In a 2°C rise world, the region would see changes in rainfall patterns: some areas would be getting much more rain than they are getting today and others would be experiencing droughts. In a 4°C rise world the impact would be even higher: the monsoon patterns that are central to South Asia and have implication in the whole region in many different ways, would change. A hugely disruptive monsoon that happened every 100 years would happen every decade.”

Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience builds on a 2012 Bank report that concluded the world would warm by 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century if countries did not take concerted action now. This new report looks at the likely impacts of present day (0.8°C), 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, coastal ecosystems and cities across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South East Asia.  

The report, prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and peer reviewed by 25 scientists worldwide,  says the consequences for South Asia of a warming climate are even worse if global temperatures increased by an average of 4°C  by 2090. In this scenario, seen as likely unless action is taken now to limit carbon release in the atmosphere, South Asia would suffer more extreme floods and droughts, landslides, rising sea levels and melting glaciers. 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 common place. With 4°C parts of Nepal will suffer much hotter summers, melting more glaciers and causing floods.    

A warming climate will contribute to slowing the reduction in poverty. While the lives of everyone in the region will be altered by climate change, the impacts of 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, the poor will suffer with temperatures magnified by the so-called “heat island effect” of the built 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.

The report cites Bangladesh, already threatened by frequent floods and extreme weather, as just one of more “potential impact hotspots” threatened by “extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures”. India’s two largest coastal cities, Kolkata and Mumbai, face a similar fate. With South Asia close to the equator, the sub-continent would see much higher rises in sea levels than higher latitudes, with the Maldives confronting the biggest increases of between 100-115 centimeters. Pakistan would suffer the most extreme increases in heat.

Many of the worst climate impacts could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C, but the window for action is narrowing rapidly. Urgent action is needed to build resilience through economic development to risks to agriculture, water resources, coastal infrastructure, and human health. 

"In the South Asia region, it is urgent to mitigate risks, some of which is already happening,” said Guerrero. “Bangladesh is at the fore front; we support projects and a large multi-donor fund that works on having early warning systems for floods and embankments when there are floods to protect crops and fields and to prevent destruction of the urban infrastructure. And some farmers are already growing vegetables that are adapted to water. Last but not least, it is very important that the countries in the region have a voice in the global conversation about climate change".

In Nepal, the World Bank Group is helping build resilience to climate-related hazards. The Bank helps enhance government capacity to mitigate climate related hazards by improving the accuracy and timeliness of weather and flood forecasts for disaster preparedness by the general population and warnings for climate-vulnerable communities.  It also supports agricultural management information system services to help farmers mitigate climate-related hazards. IFC, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, is working with leading agribusiness firms to improve agricultural and water management practices and introduce new technologies among 15,000 smallholder farmers producing rice, maize and sugarcane to help them adapt to climate change. The objective is to expand the agriculture sector in Nepal using sustainable and replicable climate smart models in order to improve farmers’ resilience.

In India, the Bank is helping the government of Himachal Pradesh shift to an environmentally sustainable model of economic development, thus making a tangible contribution to the Government of India’s objective of reducing the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions without impeding growth. IFC is working with Bangladesh’s four largest private seed companies to enhance production, distribution and adoption of high yielding and stress tolerant seed varieties in poverty-stricken and climate vulnerable areas. There has been an at least 14.4 percent incremental increase in yields for farmers that the project supported. The project has benefited 80,000 people by enabling them to adopt good practices.

I do not believe the poor are condemned to the future scientists envision in this report. In fact, I am convinced we can reduce poverty even in a world severely challenged by climate change,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “We can help cities grow clean and climate resilient, develop climate smart agriculture practices, and find innovative ways to improve both energy efficiency and the performance of renewable energies.  We can work with countries to roll back harmful fossil fuel subsidies and help put the policies in place that will eventually lead to a stable price on carbon.”

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