by Radhey Wadhwa 10 September 2022
South Asia already suffers from mistrust, and non-cooperation and climate crisis could exacerbate these fault lines.
The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have indeed sent “wake-up calls” worldwide, especially in the South Asian region. Over one-third of Pakistan is underwater, impacting around 30 million citizens and leading to 1300 deaths. In the last decade, Pakistan has witnessed severe floods, glacier melts, droughts, and record-breaking high temperatures. Nonetheless, the 2022 floods are the worst of their kind. United Nations has referred to the present situation as an ” unprecedented climate catastrophe,” which displays how dire the situation is this time.
Why are 2022 floods so severe?
While there have been references as to how climate change is only one of the factors leading to this devastation, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Pakistan’s topmost Climate change expert, points out how poor governance and subpar economic growth are significant factors as well. Pakistan has been facing a financial crisis where inflation has crossed the 40% mark, which is made worse by persistent political instability after the outset of Imran Khan. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of rainfall, as Pakistan had received three times its annual rainfall by August end, cannot be ignored.
A nation with the smallest carbon footprints is suffering the most and “is paying the price in their lives,” as Pakistan accounts for only 1% of GHGs emissions at the world level. Experts warned about ” above then normal” rainfall because of unprecedented heatwaves in April and May.
Warmer air can hold more moisture, leading to ” above normal ” levels of rain during the nation’s monsoon period. Pakistan, in total, received almost three times its average rainfall for the monsoon period. The role of Geography is also essential in the present scenario of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s unique Geographical position and atmospheric conditions have led to this climate vulnerability. Most people live near Indus and its tributaries, especially in Panjab and Sindh provinces. Due to heavy monsoon rains from June onwards, there has been swelling, leading to floods. Rising Global temperature has led to more evaporation which finally leads to intense rainfall, as in the case of the Indus river system. Lastly, Pakistan is home to many glacier systems, where the northern-wester mountainous region is famously known as the “Third Pole.” Due to rising global temperatures, the glaciers have been melting, leading to outburst floods in recent years. In 2022 floods, the swollen Indus waters aggravated by the melting glaciers led to destruction on a grand scale. Other factors include drainage and storage infrastructure issues, poor governance, and lack of finances. Furthermore, authorities ignored warnings by international think tanks such as Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).
Future of South Asia
South Asia has been receiving extreme rainfall this season due to climate change. A recent study from the German think tank argued that with every degree of celsius rise, the Indian subcontinent would face an additional 5% of monsoon precipitation. Summers are getting hotter and hotter with each passing season, and monsoon rainfall is becoming unpredictable. There has been a shift seen in monsoon rainfall patterns and timings in recent years. In short, more than half of South Asian people, roughly 760 million people, have been affected by one or more climate- related catastrophes in the last two decades only. Climate change-induced migration will also become a cause of concern. It is predicted to displace more than 60 million South Asian people by 2050, according to a World Bank report, in 2018. South Asia already suffers from mistrust, and non-cooperation and climate crisis could exacerbate the fault lines and vulnerabilities. A worsening water crisis in the coming decades could lead to tensions over shared river systems.
South Asia’s future seems bleak in terms of climate change respect as it will remain among the hardest hit regions by climate change disasters.
In the case of South Asia, the combination of climate change, infrastructure and financing issues, geography, and poor governance plays a crucial role in such extreme weather events. Take the case of Bangladesh, which has the deltas of two of the world’s most significant rivers- the Ganges and Brahmaputra. Pakistan’s geography and its association with flooding have been discussed already. Financing for climate adaptation and mitigation remains a key concern for the developing region of South Asia. While developed nations have underlined their “historical role” by the principle of ” common but differentiated responsibilities,” beyond the rhetoric of support, real help in terms of monetary value remains stagnant.
Financing is the key
The devastating floods remind us that climate change is a reality we live in now and that there is a dire need to enhance mitigation and adaptation mechanisms by developing states.
Comprehensive planning, data collection, and integrated flood management are required to prepare for such flooding in the future. Moreover, Climate financing is another factor often forgotten in the developing nation’s context. The due share that the developing countries were promised as international commitments is still not given wholly. The UNFCC mandate mentions about $100 billion each year that developed nations agreed to provide to developing nations; however, their promise has remained unfulfilled. Other than climate financing, the loss and damage mechanism also needs to evolve. Pakistan, along with other vulnerable nations, has been demanding reparations or compensation from the rich countries that are mainly responsible for causing climate change. The Warsaw International Mechanism ( WIM) was set up in 2013 and recognized for the need to compensate developing nations, but no funding mechanism has evolved. A sustained political commitment by the developing countries to raise financial aid is the need of the present times. Lastly, the role of community approaches in scaling up coastal resilience and renewable sources cannot be missed. Bangladesh, the eighth most populous nation, has emerged as a leader in coastal resilience by reducing the casualty rate and constructing barriers and shelters.
In conclusion, to tackle climate change challenges in South Asia’s context, there is a need for a collaborative effort by forging an alliance to tackle the climate crisis, forgetting domestic politics and mistrust. Indian government being the “first responder of the region,” should consider the option of providing financial aid via the United Nations as it did during the 2005 and 2010 calamities. New Delhi can show the way by finding solutions along the lines of “One Sun, One World, One Grid ” and ” Panchmit.”