Climate risks in South Asia27 December 2022
Thomas Kerr :
The United Nations climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt this November-known as COP27- came at a critical juncture for many South Asian countries who are facing increasingly intense weather events. Situated on the frontlines of the climate crisis, more than 750 million people in the region have been affected by at least one climate disaster in the past two decades. In recent months, Pakistan was brought to a standstill by catastrophic floods that submerged one third of the country, affected 33 million people, and cost the cash-strapped country over $30 billion. This came after yet another year with record-breaking heat waves across Pakistan and India.
At the World Bank Group, it is a priority for us to help countries across South Asia to invest in adaptation and build climate resilience. This year, for the South Asia region, we released three in-depth diagnostic reports outlining the climate and development outlook for Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. While each of these countries are rich in cultural, economic and geographical diversity, our Country Climate and Development Reports (CCDRs) verified that climate change has no respect for borders. Across Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, climate shocks are undoing decades of developmental growth. In each country, the poor and vulnerable are disproportionately impacted while adaptation and resilience-building efforts need to expand rapidly.
The resounding message from the CCDRs is clear: climate change must be addressed as a development challenge first and foremost. Each CCDR highlights two overarching priorities that each country can embrace to mitigate climate risks and ensure sustainable growth.
In a region plagued by cyclones and monsoon rains, investments to provide protection from flooding and to ensure adequate fresh water supplies is imperative to withstanding climate shocks
The first, and the most critical, is the need to invest in climate resilience. In a region plagued by cyclones and monsoon rains, investments to provide protection from flooding and to ensure adequate fresh water supplies is imperative to withstanding climate shocks. So too is increasing domestic and international investment in roads, hydropower dams and coastal communities. Climate resilience also means transforming the agriculture sector to bolster rural incomes, improve food security and reduce waste and emissions. Creating synergies between adaptation, mitigation and development is essential; this can be done through nature-based solutions, climate-smart agriculture, water resource management and pursuing cost-effective strategies to curb air pollution. It is also imperative to make the region's fast-growing cities more livable through climate-resilient urban infrastructure, strengthened service provision, and the development of green public transport.
What does this look like on-the-ground? In Bangladesh, a hotspot for cyclones, the World Bank-supported Coastal Embankment Improvement Project has helped mitigate some of the impact of cyclones and flooding and improve emergency response. An estimated 333,000 people now have greater protection from tidal flooding and storm surges, while nearly half a million more have access to shelters. In the past fifty years alone, Bangladesh has reduced cyclone-related deaths 100-fold. In Nepal, our Forests for Prosperity project would increase benefits from forests for local communities, notably women and marginalized groups, thereby encouraging sustainable forest management practices.
The second priority is the need to invest in human capital. The CCDRs show how climate shocks undermine equity and economic growth. In Bangladesh, frequent cyclones undermine advancements made there in human capital by destroying schools and hospitals. In Nepal and Pakistan, catastrophic drought and floods devastate agriculture - the largest source of jobs and economic development -- cause famine and malnutrition and lead to disease outbreaks.
Our findings show that the resilience of the citizens of Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan can be bolstered through improving sanitation and water supply, providing health programs for all and ensuring greater social protections for women and children. Timely, equitable investment in human capital can reduce people's vulnerability to climate change. It can also save lives.
While Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have comprehensive climate policies and programs in place, obstacles remain to effective implementation. Given that most adaptation is done at the local level, building capacity and resourcing state and city governments to plan and implement programs is a critical need.
The resilience of the citizens of Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan can be bolstered through improving sanitation and water supply, providing health programs for all and ensuring greater social protections for women and children
Our CCDRs show that while there is a clear pathway to bridge the finance gap, international assistance by itself will not be enough. Although Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan face highly constrained budgets, a clear set of public spending priorities are needed to eliminate distortions and to incentivize the private sector to invest in resilience. New financial instruments can galvanize private entrepreneurship and risk-taking to help local communities become the guardians of their own future.
As the recent floods in Pakistan show, South Asia is on the front lines of climate change and is experiencing setbacks to development. The future will only exacerbate economic fragility and human deprivation. But using the CCDRs as a guide, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have a roadmap to translate domestic policy frameworks and international assistance into resilient development outcomes. We invite governments, private sector, financiers and other development partners to work with us to turn the CCDR recommendations into reality.
(The writer is Lead Climate Specialist, South Asia, World Bank).