Fall rolls into winter stripping the trees of their beautiful foliage, only to be left bare in the months to follow. Days become longer, peaks of sun stay out later than usual and soon warmth engulfs us and spring is here. Cool evenings soon turn into hot summer nights, only to start this cycle once more. This is climate change. For most people in the United States this is an anticipated event. However, for some on the other side of the world, this is becoming less predictable.
Have you ever walked into a grocery store wondering if you will find what you need? Even in the dead of winter, you know that if you crave watermelon, that watermelon will be in the grocery store for you. Many people in South Asia barely have the confidence that their yearly crops will grow, let alone the luxury to savor the sweetness of fruits. Agriculture is the largest sector of economy in South Asia, and even without climate changes, its yields are inconsistent. The current acceleration of climate change in South Asia is hindering food production and economic development in countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Monsoons, cyclones, and heat waves are depleting crops in these countries and not enough food is being produced to feed the children.
The security of food is mainly dependent on the weather it thrives in and just one heat wave can dry out a crop for good. Agriculture also provides much of the economic growth in South Asian countries. “The health of the agriculture sector is the foundation for food security. The sector provides raw materials to many industries and it is a source of foreign exchange earnings. (www.iucn.org).”
A recent report in Science Daily stated, “The South Asian summer monsoon – critical to agriculture in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan – could be weakened and delayed due to rising temperatures in the future, according to a recent climate modeling study.” Some may misinterpret the delay of the monsoons as a positive; however, this would actually cause many negative impacts on the countries. Ninety percent of the summer monsoons aid in India’s water supply alone. An alternative source of energy, hydroelectric power, is also utilized frequently in South Asian countries, especially in rural locations. Hydroelectricity is generating power from the energy of water flowing – such as from a river. South Asia is using hydroelectric power as a step to advance in society.
Currently, there are over thirty hydroelectric power projects in India, but a delay of the monsoons would have an enormous impact on the consistency of water flow. Fortunately for us in the United States, many of us do not need to worry about being without light. However, some parts of South Asia are not as fortunate as us, without the use of hydroelectric power, many homes would be without light.
The climate change in South Asia is greatly affecting the economy and making life for the poor extremely difficult. “Agriculture represents a fourth of India’s national income, and that sector could be seriously disrupted by changes to the monsoon. Mitigation strategies are needed to deal with the risks.” A delay in the monsoon season brings fear of decreased agricultural productivity. Crop yields could decrease up to 30% in South Asia by the mid-21st century.
The world’s largest irrigation system is located in Pakistan, where the country’s water resource comes from the Indus River. Pakistan uses the river to cultivate over 35 million acres of its land. Due to an increasing population and unpredictable weather, Pakistan is now facing water stress. “High population growth is causing ‘water stress.’ Pakistan is using almost all of its water resources and no more are available. If something goes drastically wrong with the salt/sediment/water balance of the Indus system, there is no other river system in the region to draw on.”
Not only does climate change take a drastic toll on the land, the people of South Asia are directly affected by this as well. Unfortunately, the poor are the hardest hit in this area. As climate change affects the crops, this also affects the people’s food supply in the area. Many of the poor in South Asia strive to grow their own food, as this is the cheapest way of obtaining food. Without the rains to quench the thirst of the dry land, food production can be decreased drastically. Decreased availability and quality of water heighten the mortality rate due to dehydration, diarrhea and diseases.
Can predicting the climate change help combat this issue? If people in South Asia know that the monsoons will be delayed, can alternate sources of water be sent? If we know that heat waves will be prolonged, South Asians can learn to tent their crop during the waves, so the scorching sun does not burn them. Think about the number of lives that would be saved every year if people knew clean water is readily available, and their crops will not wither away due to an unexpected heat wave. A Purdue University research group found that climate change could influence monsoon dynamics and cause less summer precipitation, a delay in the start of monsoon season and longer breaks between the rainy periods. (www.sciencedaily.com).
With extensive research and adequate technology, the people of South Asia have the potential to learn how to guard their land and crops from the weather changes lying ahead. With this they will be able to protect their crops, the economy will grow, and less people will be dying from dehydration and food deprivation. But for this to happen, much education of South Asian farmers needs to be done. And even more importantly, the educated need to help create advanced means to protect the world’s farmers from the climate changes no one in recent history has dealt with. - Kanwal Ullah