Asia Grapples with Climate Vulnerability


Even 23 years after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the warming of Earth’s atmosphere due to emissions by greenhouse gases was not only not stopped, but allowed to increase very dangerously, threatening the very survival of humanity.

The peoples of Asia are the least responsible for global warming, but they will be the most affected. Asia’s poor are currently experiencing the effects of global warming through displacement, deprivation of food security, etc.

In India, torrential rains that hit the southern states, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in the month of November was the heaviest in a decade. The region witnessed the “northeast monsoon” or winter monsoon, a rain-bearing system that mainly flooding the southern India. In Tamil Nadu, severe floods and rains inflicted heavy damage and disrupted normal life for over three weeks. The rain-related incidents have left 122 people dead.

Actually, the Meteorology department predicted only a scanty summer monsoon this year. However, the state witnessed a heavier-than-normal October-December winter monsoon in the month of November. Chennai, the capital city of Tamilnadu state, had itself received 976.2mm rain (38.4 inches) as against the normal of 558.1mm (21.97 inches).

Across India, people are suffering due to unpredictable climate disasters. Earlier, the unseasonal hailstorms followed by drought ruined crops in five states. In 2013, swollen rivers did havoc to villages in the state of Uttarakhand, and about 1,000 people were killed.

In 2005, catastrophic flooding devastated Mumbai, killing at least 5,000 people across the state of Maharashtra. The crop-damage due to severe drought not only aggravated the suffering of the farmers, but, also caused unprecedented price-hikes of essential foods and grains. Such extreme weather events in India, in recent years, were mostly the effects of global warming.

In Asia, many countries with poor economies would suffer due to global warming in the coming period. The climate change-driven sea level rise will partially or completely submerge the small island nations of Kiribati, Maldives and Tuvalu, and displace at least 500,000 people. The displacement of up to 40 million people would happen due to the inundation of low elevation land resulting from sea-level rise.

Climate change has resulted in large-scale migration from countryside to the cities, as happened in Bangladesh. A large number of rice farmers who lived in the fertile plains of Bangladesh’s vast Ganges Delta have now been migrating and living in the slums in the capital city of Dhaka, because the river washed their lands away, due to the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates suggested that about 350,000 people migrate to Dhaka each year. Advancing water levels, frequent storms and the rising salinity of the soil are destroying the cultivable land.

About 157 million people in Bangladesh will be the worst affected due to the climate change. Since Bangladesh has low-lying and densely populated delta, and has a cyclone-battered coast, it is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to rising sea levels and intense and frequent storms.

The World Bank predicted in 2013 that the rising sea levels and more extreme heat and more intense cyclones would threaten food production, livelihoods and infrastructure as well as slow down the reduction of poverty. This is now a stark reality, not only in Bangladesh, but also in many other Asian countries.

Rising sea levels with melting of Himalayan glaciers feed rivers running into the delta. This results in the risk of severe flooding. This also causes greater health risks to slum-dwellers. Due to climate-driven displacement of people, the slum-dwelling population has increased. The UN-Habitat stated that Dhaka’s slums have doubled in size in the last decade.

In many cities, during heavy rains and flooding, floodwaters in slums mix with raw sewage and breed water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea, typhoid and scabies; water supplies become contaminated during floods, since pipes in slum areas are either damaged or leaked.

To save humanity, and the poor people living in the developing countries, limiting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature below the catastrophic 2 degrees is crucial. In Paris, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, representatives from governments around the world are meeting in the 21st annual conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention Framework on Climate Change (Cop21) to discuss this issue.

However, skepticism persists about what COP21 could accomplish. Economist John Reilly had already unfolded the reason for this skepticism: “The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more [emissions] are growing.” To put it frankly, the clout of Big Corporations over the governments across the world obstructs the ruling elites to take constructive actions. This fact is more pronounced in advanced countries.

On the eve of the conference, the host of ruling elites consisting of politicians, ministers, diplomats and top bureaucrats would vaguely call for humanity “to act now” to stop global warming. Such verbiages would delude the common people. The real culprits are the corporate-driven state powers in advanced countries. And, begging for the kindness of corporations will achieve no progress, since corporations, ignoring the catastrophic global warming, would always aim for profits at the expense of squeezing the wealth of the earth. The working people and the global poor have to confront the corporate-based social order, throw it out and create a new social order, based on equality.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2015

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