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Extreme weather events: Harbingers of worst times ahead

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury | Published: July 19, 2019 22:19:52 | Updated: August 09, 2019 21:24:23


The month of July corresponds with the Bengali months of Ashar and Shraban in Bangladesh. It is well-known that these two months fall in the monsoon season. So heavy rainfall and related natural disasters like flooding along with landslides are considered common during these times.

Thanks to the rainfall and increase in water level, around 1.50 million people of 15 districts of the country are said to be affected over the past week in the country, according to the National Disaster Response Coordination Centre (NDRCC). The districts worst hit by the floods are Chattogram, Sunamganj, Kurigram, Sylhet, Lalmonirhat and Gaibandha.

While flooding in Bangladesh is considered 'business as usual' by the global community, floods have been affecting other countries of South Asia as well over the past five years or so.

Several international publications reported on July 16 that more than 100 people have been killed due to floods and landslides across India and Nepal. The worst-hit areas of India are Assam and Bihar with a total of 6.0 million people affected in these states.

In Nepal, at least 64 people were killed and 31 went missing following heavy rains in the country. Most of the deaths were caused by landslides that swept away houses in the country.

Floods and related natural disasters in South Asian countries of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and others have experienced a spike since 2011. With every passing year, the intensity of these disasters is increasing leading to higher casualties, human displacement and financial losses.

For example, the monsoon season has barely begun and already more than 100 deaths have been reported from Nepal and India.

Though the floods were not as bad last year, the 2017 floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh killed at least 800 people, destroyed food crops and displaced millions.

Scientists and weather experts have attributed these disasters to the increasing rainfall and its patterns in South Asian countries during monsoon season.

A study titled "Recent changes in temperature and rainfall trends and variability over Bangladesh" was conducted by researchers of Wageningen University & Research in 2016. The study concluded that the annual and seasonal rainfall is gradually increasing with every passing year. The increasing trends are significant for pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons with 6.0 per cent and 11 per cent increase respectively over the last 50 years. The number of days when it rained during monsoon season has also been on the rise with every passing year.

Despite the rainfall, average temperature in Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia is increasing.

According to a World Bank report from 2018, more than 800 million people, almost half of South Asia's population, currently live in areas that will become moderate to severe hot spots by 2050, if minimal collective action is not taken under carbon-intensive scenario.

South Asia's average annual temperatures are expected to increase by 1°- 2°C by 2050, even if preventive measures are taken as recommended by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015. Without proper measures, the average temperatures will increase by 1.5°C to 3°C, said the report.

The rising temperatures in South Asia are also causing droughts leading to severe agricultural losses. Households that survived on agriculture are being forced to move to other professions as a result and migrate to urban areas, causing further environmental problems in cities.

But extreme weather events are no longer a part and parcel of Asian countries now.

Tropical storm Barry hit the Louisiana coast of the USA on July 14, with highest wind speed of 120 kilometres per hour. Though there were no casualties, the storm caused floods in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas of USA and Southern Ontario of Canada.

A week earlier, on July 03, a tornado hit northeastern China killing six people and injuring nearly 200 people. Around the beginning of this year, China had warned its citizens that there will be an increasing number of extreme weather events this year, if compared with previous years.

Last month, a record four-day long heat wave in Europe led to seven deaths. Water shortage became acute and several wildfires erupted in Spain as the temperature hit a scorching 42.4 C on June 28. Southern France registered a national record of 45.9 C on the same day.

It has been explained by scientists that rising temperatures are melting polar ice caps which are causing water levels to rise. This is indirectly causing floods.

While shedding light on these issues, Sir David Attenborough said to a UK parliamentary committee on July 09 that UK should take radical actions to meet its climate change targets.

When asked by Members of the UK Parliament if the UK should bring forward its new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, he said, "We cannot be radical enough in dealing with these issues".

"Because it costs money in realistic terms, dealing with these problems mean we have to change our lifestyles," he told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of the UK parliament. "The question of how fast we can go is how fast we can carry the electorate with us." Getting to net zero within three decades was a "tough target" but he "hoped to goodness" the UK could achieve it.

He also expressed hope as the new generation is thankfully more responsive about climate change effects. He called the movement of school pupils striking over climate change, sparked by Greta Thunberg of Sweden last year "a beacon of hope". "The most encouraging thing I see of course is that the electorate of tomorrow are making their voices very, very clear," he said.

Echoing the sentiments of Sir Attenborough, it cannot be stressed enough how necessary it has become that collective and individual actions be taken which will contribute towards limiting the global warming to under 2.0 C per year, as was committed by 195 nations during the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Recently, botanists have encouraged the planting of trees as plants inhale carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. A number of other actions like cutting down on meat consumption, conserving energy, using green technology and others are also being recommended by climate change experts in the battle against climate change consequences.

tashfinster@gmail.com

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