Global Warming in South Asia: 800 Million at Risk

Climate change could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people in South Asia, a region that is already home to some of the world’s poorest and hungriest people, if nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the World Bank warned Thursday in an ominous new study.

The study looked at all six countries of South Asia, where average annual temperatures are rising steadily and rainfall patterns are already changing. It concentrated on changes in day-to-day weather, rather than sudden-onset natural disasters, and identified “hot spots” where the deterioration is expected to be most severe.

“The analyses reveal that hot spots tend to be more disadvantaged districts, even before the effects of changes in average weather are felt,” the report concluded. “Hot spots are characterized by low household consumption, poor road connectivity, limited access to markets, and other development challenges.”

Unchecked climate change, in other words, would amplify the hardships of poverty.

In some cases, cities like Karachi, Pakistan, emerge as hot spots because higher temperatures are forecast to lower labor productivity and worsen public health. In others cases, like the central belt of India, hotter days and changes in rainfall patterns are expected to sharply increase stress on farmers.

The study noted that some of the hottest parts of the region are getting hotter, faster. From 1950 to 2010, for example, western Afghanistan and southwestern Pakistan have already seen annual average temperatures rise in the range of 1 degree Celsius to 3 degrees.

By contrast, some of the cooler countries of the region, like Nepal, will not be sharply affected by rising temperatures. But that will not necessarily make up for the risks those countries face from extreme weather events, the study concluded.

The intensity of outcomes vary depending on future measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, across South Asia annual average temperatures are projected to rise by 2.2 degrees Celsius (3.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 relative to 1981 to 2010 conditions under a high emissions scenario. Temperatures are projected to rise 1.6 degrees Celsius if steps are taken to reduce global emissions.

In the high emissions scenario, 800 million people stand to be at risk. Under the reduced-emissions scenario, that number falls to 375 million.

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