Climate change driving ‘unprecedented’ floods in South Asia

Climate change driving ‘unprecedented’ floods in South Asia

SYLHET, Bangladesh (AP) – Scientists say climate change is a factor behind the erratic and early rains that have triggered unprecedented flooding in Bangladesh and northeast India, killing dozens and making life miserable for millions of others.

While the region is no stranger to flooding, they typically occur towards the end of the year, when monsoon rains are underway.

This year’s torrential rains hit the area as early as March. It may take much longer to determine the extent to which climate change played a role in the floods, but scientists say this has made the monsoon — a seasonal change in climate usually associated with heavy rainfall — more variable in recent decades. This means that much of the rain predicted to fall in a year is arriving in a matter of weeks.

India’s northeastern state of Meghalaya received nearly three times the average rainfall in June in just the first three weeks of the month, and neighboring Assam received twice the monthly average over the same period. Several rivers, including one of the largest in Asia, flow downstream of the two states into the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, a densely populated delta nation.

With more rain expected over the next five days, the Bangladesh Flood Forecast and Warning Center warned on Tuesday that water levels will remain dangerously high in the country’s northern regions.

The monsoon pattern, vital to the agrarian economies of India and Bangladesh, has been changing since the 1950s, with longer periods of drought interspersed with heavy rains, said Roxy Matthew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, adding that extreme rainfall events are also projected to increase.

Until now, flooding in northwestern Bangladesh has been rare, while the state of Assam, famous for its tea growing, has usually dealt with floods later in the year during the monsoon season. The sheer volume of rain earlier this year that hit the region in just a few weeks makes the current floods an “unprecedented” situation, said Anjal Prakash, research director at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy in India, which contributed to the sponsored study. by the UN. about global warming.

“This is something we’ve never heard of and never seen,” he said.

A total of 36 people have died in Bangladesh since May 17, while Indian authorities reported that deaths from flooding had risen to 78 in Assam state, with another 17 killed in landslides.

Hundreds of thousands are homeless and millions in the region have been forced to flee to makeshift evacuation centers.

Some, like Mohammad Rashiq Ahamed, who owns a shop in Sylhet, the hardest-hit city in northeastern Bangladesh, have returned home worried with their families to see what can be salvaged. Crossing knee-deep water, he said he was worried the floodwaters would rise again. “The weather is changing… there could be another disaster at any moment.”

He is one of an estimated 3.5 million Bangladeshis who face the same situation every year when rivers flood, according to a 2015 analysis by the World Bank Institute.

The country of 160 million is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change and the poor are disproportionately impacted.

Mohammad Arfanuzzaman, a climate change expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said catastrophic floods like this year’s could have wide-ranging impacts, from farmers losing their crops and getting stuck in a cycle of debt to children unable to go to school. school and at higher risk of illness.

“Poor people are suffering a lot from the ongoing floods,” he said.


Ghosal reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writers Julhas Alam from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Science Education Department of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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