Global Warming Hurting South Asia's Poor
However, it's not just the big cities in South Asia that will feel the brunt of the climate change. The rural folks in India are already seeing rising crop failures, increasing poverty and frequent farmer suicides.
Addressing a regional conference in Islamabad earlier this year, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said Pakistan was witnessing severe pressures on natural resources and environment.
He said: “Climatic changes are likely to exacerbate this trend. Water supply, already a serious concern in many parts of the country, will decline dramatically, affecting food production. Export industries such as fisheries will also be affected, while coastal areas risk being inundated, flooding the homes of millions of people living in low-lying areas.”
“The fact that global warming was unequivocal and there is no scope for scientific questioning, Pakistan faces potential environmental catastrophe,” said Dr Pachauri, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (on behalf of the IPCC) along with former US vice-president Al Gore.
Here's a recent LA Times report on the vicious cycle of poverty in rural India:
India has long been plagued by unscrupulous moneylenders who exploit impoverished farmers. But with crops failing more frequently, farmers are left even more desperate and vulnerable.
Reporting from Jhansi, India - She stops for long stretches, lost in thought, trying to make sense of how she's been left half a person.
Sunita, 18, who requested that her family name not be used to preserve her chance of getting married, said her nightmare started in early 2007 after her father took a loan for her sister's wedding. The local moneylender charged 60% annual interest.
When the family was unable to make the exorbitant interest payments, she said, the moneylender forced himself on her, not once or twice but repeatedly over many months.
"I used to cry a lot and became a living corpse," she said.
Sunita's allegations, which the moneylender denies, cast a harsh light on widespread abuses in rural India, where a highly bureaucratic banking system, corruption and widespread illiteracy allow unethical people with extra income to exploit poor villagers, activists say.
But here in the Bundelkhand region in central India that is among the nation's more impoverished areas, the problem is exacerbated by climate change and environmental mismanagement, they say, suggesting that ecological degradation and global warming are changing human life in more ways than just elevated sea levels and melting glaciers.
"Before, a bad year would lead to a good year," said Bharat Dogra, a fellow at New Delhi's Institute of Social Sciences specializing in the Bundelkhand region. "Now climate change is giving us seven or eight bad years in a row, putting local people deeper and deeper in debt. I expect the situation will only get worse."
An estimated 200,000 Indian farmers have ended their lives since 1997, including many in this area, largely because of debt.
A 2007 study of 13 Bundelkhand villages found that up to 45% of farming families had forfeited their land, and in extreme cases some were forced into indentured servitude. Tractor companies, land mafia and bankers routinely collude, encouraging farmers to take loans they can't afford, a 2008 report by India's Supreme Court found, knowing they'll default and be forced to sell their land.
"While a few people borrow for social status or a desire to buy a new motorcycle, in most cases it's for sheer survival," Dogra said. "When they see their children starving after several years of crop failures, many feel they have no choice."
Recent amendments to a 1976 law in Uttar Pradesh state have increased the maximum punishment for unauthorized money-lending to three years in jail, up from six months, but many loan sharks are well-connected and elude prosecution. The law specifies that lenders must obtain a state license, but the requirements for obtaining it can be vague, a situation that critics say gives bureaucrats significant leeway to enact arbitrary rules and exact questionable fees.
"I take occasional loans when we're desperate," says Jhagdu, 50, a farmer in Barora, 60 miles south of Jhansi, sitting on his haunches with teeth stained red from chewing betel nut. "When there's no rain, like now, you can't repay for a year, so the amounts can double."
The South Asian governments are sufficiently concerned about potential effects of global warming to warrant a meeting to hammer out a regional response. South Asian experts on climate change held two days of talks in Dhaka last year, ahead of a meeting of environment ministers from countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). According to Reuters, Bangladesh has proposed the creation of a fund to fight climate change in densely populated South Asia, which experts say is vulnerable to rising seas, melting glaciers and greater extremes of droughts and floods. For the rich South Asians thinking of fleeing to real estate in Dubai, the forecast for the GCC countries is no better. Experts believe the Palm and the World projects in Dubai will disappear underwater in 50 years if the issue of climate change fails to be addressed by governments.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute has compiled a list of 21 "mega-cities" of 8 million people or more that are in direct danger as a result of global warming and rising seas: They include Dhaka, Bangladesh; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Shanghai and Tianjin in China; Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt; Mumbai and Kolkata in India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe in Japan; Lagos, Nigeria; Karachi, Pakistan; Bangkok, Thailand, and New York and Los Angeles in the United States, according to studies by the United Nations and others.
More than one-tenth of the world's population, or 643 million people, live in low-lying areas at risk from climate change, according to U.S. and European experts. Most at risk, in descending order, are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the U.S., Thailand and the Philippines.
As a nation, Bangladesh has the most to worry about the effects of climate change in South Asia. A recent story in the Guardian talks about Bangladesh as "flood-prone" because of its geography. Situated across a vast delta where three great rivers join, Bangladesh is known to be flood-prone. Not only does it have monsoon rain to deal with, but the slow warming of the earth's atmosphere is releasing more water from Himalayan glaciers above the flatlands of Bangladesh. Climate change, say scientists, also means higher tides in the Bay of Bengal. The result is trillions more liters of water sloshing over the country, depositing billions of tons of sediment. Experts say a third of Bangladesh's coastline could be flooded if the Bay of Bengal rises three feet in the next 50 years, displacing 20 million Bangladeshis from their homes and farms, according to Reuters. Across the region, warmer weather could cause more intense and more frequent cyclones and storm surges, leading to more salt water fouling waterways and farmlands, the experts said. Corp yields in South Asia could decrease up to 30 percent by the mid-21st century, they added.
Bangladesh has taken the initiative by proposing a SAARC fund for climate change and allocated US$44 million for this purpose in its current fiscal year budget. "We want to find a common stand among the South Asian countries and will raise our voice together against the perils of climate changes," said Raja Devasish Roy, head of the Environment and Forest Ministry of Bangladesh, after opening the experts' meeting in Dhaka. Devasish said industrialized countries were the most to blame for global warming and should compensate poorer nations by providing them grants -- not loans -- to fight the effects of climate change.
While Bangladesh is admirably leading the charge to address the impact of climate change, it is important that the rest of South Asians, particularly India and Pakistan, join it to protect the planet in this noble effort. As part of this challenge, it is time for SAARC leaders to think of structural changes needed for a world without oil. The SAARC nations owe it to their future generations and the rest of the planet.
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