Disaster emergency has come, and the current losses are set to multiply, if appropriate actions are not taken urgently. Over 140 disasters struck Asia-Pacific region in 2022 leading to over 7,500 deaths, affecting over 64 million people causing economic damage estimated at US$ 57 billion. Moreover, due to a narrow window to increase its resilience and protect its hard-won development gains from the socioeconomic impacts of climate change, the cost of inaction now would cause average annual losses increasing from $924 billion to almost $1 trillion, or from 2.9 to 3 per cent of the regional GDP.
It has been warned in the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which also finds India as one of the most vulnerable countries in the region. Floods and heatwaves are going to further intensify in the country.
The report noted that fewer disaster events occurred in 2022 in the region compared to the recent ten-years period but their impact was devastating. Flooding led to the greatest loss of life and was the cause of over 4,800 fatalities primarily in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and in Bangladesh. The two deadliest flooding events occurred in India and Pakistan, which alone accounted for almost 80 per cent of the total yearly mortality related to disasters.
Heatwaves in India and Pakistan were specifically mentioned in the report. In April and May 2022, an unprecedented, early, prolonged and dry heatwave affected large parts of North India and Pakistan. India recorded its warmest March on record, with an average maximum temperature of 33.1°C. This was 1.86°C above the long-term average. Pakistan also recorded its warmest March in 60 years. Although the health-related economic impact from the heatwave will take time to assess, early reports have attributed at least 90 deaths to this heatwave in both countries, and an estimated 10-35 per cent reduction in crop yields in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab. Furthermore, the probability of a heatwave of such magnitude has increased by a factor of 30, and as global warming increases, heatwaves of this kind will become hotter and more common.
The report also specifically referred disasters by flooding in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. In India, heavy rainfall from May to September 2022 triggered multiple landslides, river overflows and floods which resulted in casualties and damage. Heavy monsoon rains affected especially the north-eastern parts of India and Bangladesh. This disaster caused the highest number of fatalities between 2021 and 2022.
The World Weather Attribution study, released on 14 September 2022, revealed that climate change caused the extreme monsoon rainfall in Pakistan. Bangladesh and India experienced floods in 2022, which affected 7.2 million and 1.3 million people, respectively. From June to August 2022, China experienced its most severe heatwave on record, dramatically lowering the water levels of the Yangtze river and adversely impacting the national energy sector. Events such as these demonstrate the systemic nature of risk and highlight the need for governance that is anticipatory; capable of preparing for future uncertainties, rather than reactionary and merely responding to what has already occurred.
India figures in existing hotspots of multi-hazard risk in baseline scenario. Even if 1.5 degree Celsius target is achieved, Parts of Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghan basin would be among hotspots of intensifying multi-hazard risk, and the entire North India would be hotspots of emerging multi-hazard risk.
Existing hotspots of heatwave risks in baseline scenario are also there. Large part of India would be undergoing medium to very high risks. Even if 1.5 degree Celsius target is a achieved, hotspots of intensifying heatwave risk would prevail in many parts of India, and the entire Southern India would turn into hotspots of intensifying heatwave risk. Wester part of India would also undergo medium to very high risk in both the baseline scenario or at 1.5 degree Celsius.
The report has noted the current inaction, and has estimated its future costs. Among the specific sub regions , South-East Asia would face a 5 per cent loss of GDP under the current scenario, which would increase to 6 per cent under 2°C warming. South and South-West Asia would also face a 5 per cent loss of GDP across all scenarios. North and Central Asia would experience a 3 per cent loss of GDP, and East and North-East Asia would encounter a 2 per cent loss of GDP across all scenarios (Figure 2.6). While China, India, and Japan would suffer the highest absolute losses, the Pacific SIDS would bear the most significant losses as a percentage of their GDP. China would suffer the most, while India would be the second worst sufferer country in the Asia-Pacific.
Since the heatwaves and floods would have devastating effect on food production, it would impact food security in the region. India would be the worst sufferer in absolute terms which would impact largest number of people in the region. India would also suffer the high-water stress and exposure of energy capacity to climate hazards. Biodiversity in the region would suffer the devastating impact.
The report has also identified India among the top 10 countries with intensifying risks and are most in need of enhanced disaster risk knowledge and forecasting capabilities. It mentioned four countries Afghanistan, India, Thailand and Uzbekistan that did not report on all aspects of this problem, however, it was needed to fully understand the state of preparedness.
Afghanistan stands out as a country that has a very high vulnerability under 2°C warming scenario, with over 94 per cent of its population exposed to disaster risk. Bangladesh and India have a significant percentage of the vulnerable population exposed to disaster risk under the 2°C warming scenario, with over 84 per cent of their populations exposed.
In Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India, the high exposure of agriculture to disaster risk (exceeding 90 per cent in all countries) and of vulnerable populations (exceeding 84 per cent in all countries) is made more dangerous by the low capacity of early warning systems, the report says.(IPA Service)