POST TIME: 31 August, 2017 10:45:11 AM
Climate change-induced untimely floods hit South Asia
The mighty Brahmaputra River, which runs through Assam and Bangladesh, often breaks its banks during the monsoon, leaving marooned animals scrambling to higher, drier ground
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled

Climate change-induced untimely floods hit South Asia

The untimely floods being experienced in Bangladesh, India and Nepal can definitely be attributed to climate change-induced changes in the monsoon system of South Asia.  The concerned officials said recently that more than 750 people have died in floods across South Asia, with monsoon rains also causing the deaths of hundreds of animals, including rhinos and a tiger. As the annual monsoon hits the north and east of the region the human toll is steadily rising across Bangladesh, India and Nepal following the latest in a series of deluges since August 10, 2017. First of all we can have a look at the magnitude of human and animal lives lost and affected due to the floods. A state disaster official told that nearly 50 bodies were found overnight in Bihar, in India's east, taking the number of dead there to 253. Across the border in Bangladesh, 115 people have died and 5.7 million been affected by raging downpours. In Nepal, 143 people have died and 30 remain missing after flooding that has destroyed close to 80,000 homes. Across Assam and West Bengal, 122 people have died while 69 people have perished in Uttar Pradesh state. In the Himalayan region in India's northwest, landslides caused by heavy rain have claimed 54 lives, the vast majority in one huge avalanche of mud that swept two buses off a mountainside. With rescue teams pulling stranded animals from raging waters in India’s Kaziranga National Park, the heavy rain has also taken a toll on India's wildlife. Home to the world's largest population of rare one-horned rhinos and other endangered species, the sanctuary in northeastern Assam state, has been especially hard hit. Kaziranga director Satyendra Singh told that "Our teams have recovered 225 dead animals since August 12. Of those, 15 were rhinos. A Bengal tiger also died in a fight with a herd of elephants. It was left injured and later could not walk or swim. It is possible that due to floods, there was a space crunch and it led to a territorial conflict”. Among the other animals found dead in Kaziranga were nearly 200 deer, four elephant calves, four wild boars, two water buffaloes and one porcupine, which is still 20 percent under water. Sing added that "The toll could rise further".

The mighty Brahmaputra River, which runs through Assam and Bangladesh, often breaks its banks during the monsoon leaving marooned animals scrambling to higher, drier ground. Conservationists worry that poachers, hunting for lucrative rhino horn, will try and capitalise on the exodus of wildlife from the protection of the jungle. Singh said that erecting barricades and increasing patrols his teams had already taken precautions. When Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate visited during their tour of India, the park, a tourist magnet home to about 2,500 rhinos, was given a huge publicity boost last year. But it is prone to flooding during the monsoon like other parts of the region.

Now, on the other side, in the face of the deluge forcing millions of people to flee their homes for shelters, the aid agencies warn of a serious unfolding humanitarian crisis as floodwaters continue to inundate new areas of three South Asian countries. The Bangladesh’s agriculture department estimated rice and other crops cultivated in half a million hectares of land in 34 districts were washed away, so the country’s farmers are bearing the brunt of the ongoing flooding. By the monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, more than 16 million people have been affected with many of them either displaced or marooned without food and electricity. Although the floodwater has started receding, in many areas rivers are still swelling. According to aid agencies a large number of displaced people have taken refuge in squalid makeshift camps and are staying in extremely unhygienic conditions.

In the affected areas road and rail communications have also been severely damaged and disrupted. While submerged hospitals are unable to assist flood victims even as water-borne diseases are spreading, thousands of educational institutions have been forced to close. The Deputy Regional Director for Asia Pacific, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Martin Faller said in a statement that “This is fast becoming one of the most serious humanitarian crises this region has seen in many years and urgent action is needed to meet the growing needs of millions of people affected by these devastating floods. Millions of people across Nepal, Bangladesh and India face severe food shortages and disease caused by polluted flood waters”.

The aid agency Oxfam said that there was urgent need for supplies like food, shelter, drinking water, blankets, hygiene kits and solar lights to the marooned people. Bangladesh authorities said that water levels in major rivers were still rising, inundating new areas every day and more than a third of the country was submerged. In Bangladesh the deadliest floods the country had seen to date, the flooding by major rivers has surpassed the levels set in 1988. In Bangladesh, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimated that more than half a million people were affected by flooding. Abdul Hamid, a farmer in Rangpur district, said he had cultivated rice in 10 bighas of land, but it was completely ruined by floods. He said, adding that his house was also destroyed, that “I don’t know how to recover the loss”. There are tens of thousands of Abdul Hamid across the country.

In India, in four states across the north of the country, over 11 million people have been affected by floods. The meteorological department of India is forecasting more heavy rain for the region in the coming days. With many rivers still flowing well above the extreme danger level despite improvement in the overall situation in the region, Rajib Banerjee, West Bengal’s minister for irrigation and waterways, told on August 19, 2017, that the flood situation in parts of northern West Bengal in India remained grim until August 18, 2017. He said that “The situation in Malda still looks grim and remains as a matter of concern as the water of the River Mahananda continues to rise”. As embankments of rivers in many areas have been breached, forcing hundreds of families to flee their houses, the situation in villages in the Indian state of Assam is very serious.

The poor people – mostly farmers – were the chief victims. Many of them took refuge on roadsides and embankments. In northern Uttar Pradesh in India, where the authorities sought military help, thousands of people were also badly affected and many of them still remained marooned. The worst-hit district in India, Bihar, also estimated over 253 dead and half a million displaced in the past couple of weeks. A senior journalist and director of news and current affairs of Nepal’s ABC News TV, Dr. Suresh Achaya, told that some 14 districts out of 75, mostly located along the border with India, were badly affected. Acharya said that “In Nepal, government recorded 134 dead and 30 missing in flood-affected areas”.

Many areas remain cut off in Nepal after the recent most destructive floods and landslides on August 11-12, 2017. Although the government said it had been providing the victims with foods and other support the villagers and communities are stranded without food, water and electricity. In the flood-hit areas, thousands of people had taken shelter in schools, temples and sides of roads and embankments. The Nepalese ministry of agricultural development, fearing that the crop damage could cast a long shadow on the economy, estimated that floodwaters had washed away rice and other crops worth Rs. 8.11 billion (77 million US dollars). The Nepalese government on August 18, 2017, at a meeting with chief secretary Rajendra Kishore in the chair, decided to accept foreign support and aid to meet the need.

However, the scientists attribute the deadly floods in South Asia to a changing climate. They believe that changing climate has increased the magnitude of the current flooding many-fold. The director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Dr Saleemul Huq, told that “The untimely floods being experienced in Nepal, India and Bangladesh can definitely be attributed to climate change-induced changes in the South Asian monsoon system”. The countries in the region have already been taking the brunt of climate change. The changing climate has caused extreme weather patterns in the region increasing the daily rainfall amount, droughts, untimely flooding and frequent tropical storms to the loss of human and animal lives and crops.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre