Climate change is one of the greatest threats the world is facing today. There is a scientific consensus that the earth is warming up and climate change is happening everywhere. Although the issue is a global phenomenon, the impacts of it will not be felt in equal proportion across the world. It is irrefutable that the impacts are likely to differ in both magnitude and rate of changes in different continents, countries, and regions. South Asian countries are facing negative impacts of climate change on their lives and livelihoods. The fourth report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) and first assessment report of Indian network of climate change Assessment (INCCA) confirm that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards and also the emergence of new catastrophes that could manifest in the form of sea level rise and new vulnerabilities with various spatial and socio-economic impacts on communities.
In South Asia, glaciers of the Himalayas have the largest storage of ice outside the polar region. Melting of this reserve is the source of some of the world’s biggest rivers. In the rainy seasons, these glacial melts, coupled with heavy rain, may cause flood which hampers the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region.
Even small climate-related hazard can cause irreversible damage to a large number of people. The region also suffers from a large number of natural disasters. Over the past forty years, South Asian countries faced as many as 1,333 disasters that killed 980,000 people, affected 2.4 billion lives and damaged assets worth US$105 billion. From 1990 to 2008, more than 750 million people were affected by natural disasters which caused the death of about 60,000 people and about US$ 45 billion in damages.
The low-lying areas of South Asia or large deltas and coastal areas of the region could be drowned by sea level rise. Climate change has affected the agriculture of Bangladesh that forced people to migrate from rural to urban areas. Cyclone ‘Aila’ hit Bangladesh in 2009 which forced 200,000 people of Southwestern part to migrate from homes and the damage totaled US$269.28 million. Under the current trends of climate change, per capita, water availability in 2025 will become 7,670 cubic meters against 12,162 cubic meters in 1991. Such reduction will affect the huge population of Bangladesh during the dry season while the current availability is already very low in the country.Such complex changes will have adverse impacts on the agricultural system and food production of the country.
India is also one of the major victims of climate change. By one estimate, climate change will cause a 30-40 percent drop in India’s agricultural output by 2080.It is projected that under the scenario of 2.5°c to 4.9°c temperature rise, rice yields will drop by 32-40 percent and wheat yields by 41-52 percent and this would cause Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to fall by 1.8-3.4 percent. A World Bank study reveals that about 700 million people of India will be forced to migrate from rural to urban areas due to the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture.Climate change may cause a rise of up to 4°c in surface air temperature by 2100 and a rising number of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and cyclones in India.Furthermore, anomalies in global climate pattern pose a serious threat to the urban water supply of India. According to IPCC, by the year 2030, Himalayan glaciers will shrink from 500,000 km2 to 100,000 km2 affecting north Indian rivers where 50 percent of the water comes from snow melt.
Pakistan has an area of over 88 million hectares which includes a variety of landscape ranging from high mountain ranges to stark deserts. Climate change could make the country more vulnerable to natural disasters. Climate change in Pakistan is expected to increase glacial melt, sea level rise along its coast and increase periods without precipitation. Due to various climate related disasters in past 40 years, the total death toll exceeds 90,000 and total recorded losses from disaster amounted to US$20 billion, including the US$10 billion losses caused by the 2010 flood.According to a study, by 2020, the temperature in Pakistan is expected to increase by 0.9°c doubling to 1.8°c by 2050. Scenarios for sea level rise include 20 cm by 2020 and 30 cm by 2050. The Indus River and its tributaries dissect the country, providing a source of the world’s largest contiguous irrigation network.In Pakistan, potentially huge and rapid reductions in Indus’ flows, coupled with intensified droughts and sea level rise, will require major livelihood transitions and economic transformation with consequent risks of social upheaval.
Sri Lanka is also vulnerable to the effects of global climate change as major parts of the country will be submerged with rise in sea level. Climate change will bring dire consequences for the country for water, agriculture, health and coastal regions. As there are early signs of impacts, there are strong possibilities to reach serious proportions by 2025.Therefore, any adverse changes in already volatile weather patterns are likely to impact on the socio-economic activities of the country.In case of climate change, Sri Lanka might experience widespread effects, including climate variability and sea level rise, directly affecting the overall abundance and security of endemic species within the country.
Maldives is also at a high stake of global climatic change. The country consists of about 1,200 islands on the Indian Ocean. Asian Development Bank Economic Report for South Asia revealed that if the climate change would not be checked, Maldives would face losses of over 12 percent of its GDP by the end of this century and 1-meter sea level rise would inundate 66 percent of the archipelago’s land area which would affect tourism industry, the lifeline of the country’s economy.The natural beauty and tourism industry of Maldives is mainly centered on its beautiful sea beach, which represents 5 percent of the country’s total land area. It is to be noted that more than 97 percent inhabitants of islands reported beach erosion in 2004, of which 64 percent reported severe erosion and more than 45percent of the tourists have also reported about severe erosion.In the long run, climate change will threaten the entire country’s existence. The highest point of the country is 8 feet above sea level.Therefore; the country will be severely affected by global sea level rise. Along with rising sea levels, increased beach erosion, more powerful storms, higher storm surges and threats to biodiversity are among the major threats to the Maldives due to climate change over the coming decades.
Nepal is a country of diverse climatic conditions, ranging from tropical in the south to alpine in the north. The country is facing problems like drought and flooding and there are possibilities that these will be magnified by climate change in future. In 1999, temperatures were increasing in Nepal and rainfall was becoming more variable. A decade later, in 2009, a modeling exercise conducted by a team of Nepali, American, British, Pakistani and Bangladeshi experts using the emissions scenarios in the IPCC’s special report (2007), found that the temperature would indeed increase in the mid-hills and the region was likely to grow more arid in non-monsoon seasons. It also suggested that precipitation was likely to be more uncertain and that storm intensity would increase.
Bhutan is part of the Eastern Himalayan region which contains part of three global biodiversity hotspots, 60 ecoregions, 330 bird areas, 53 important plant areas, a large number of wetlands and 29 Ramsar sites. Bhutan is a country of diverse array of flora and fauna including 5,603 species of vascular plants, 400 lichens, 200 mammals and about 700 birds.In future, climate change is likely to affect Bhutan in various ways e.g., changes in hydrological cycles may affect present level of drinking water of the country. As 80 percent of Bhutanese practice subsistence farming, climate change can cause changes in temperature which will increase the vulnerability of a large group of this population.In addition, climate change will affect forests, biodiversity as well as human health badly with increasing number of natural disasters.
Afghanistan is the last country to join SAARC in 2007. The country is mountainous and very dry which has an arid and semi-arid continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Due to climate change, Afghanistan is currently suffering from droughts. Available data and trends from neighboring countries indicate that mean annual temperature has increased by 0.6 °c since 1960, at an average rate of around 0.13 °c per year.
According to the IPCC report, people living in developing countries in low altitudes, particularly those along the coast of Asia will suffer the most. Some small island states are expected to face very high impacts. Hence, countries like Bangladesh and Maldives have possibilities to become worst sufferers. The consequences of climate change will be drastic for the region as about 70 percent of South Asians lives in rural areas and account for about 75 percent of the poor, who are the most impacted segments by climate change.