Southern Asia hit by worst flooding for over a decade

Boy is pictured in a flooded village in Motihari

A boy is pictured in a flooded village in Motihari, Bihar State, India. Photo credit: Reuters / Cathal McNaughton

By Anders Lorenzen

While the world’s focus is directed towards Hurricane Harvey in the US, the region of South Asia has been hit by devastating monsoon floods, the worst for over a decade.

So far more than 1,400 people have been killed by the floods which have been ongoing for two months, but with very little world attention. India is the worst impacted country, but also Nepal and Bangladesh have been severely affected.

Lack of preparedness and coordination between the countries has been blamed for some of the floods extent. Flooding upstream in Nepal, for example, was followed by flooding in India this year and then downstream to Bangladesh. But there was little cooperation or coordination between the nations involved.

Though flooding happens annually across Southern Asia, as rivers burst their banks during the June-September season of heavy monsoon rains, this seems to have been the worst for decades.

It will take communities months just to get back on their feet and even longer in the more rural communities. UNICEF has said that as many as 16 million children have been affected by the floods, and are in urgent need of life-saving support.

As always with extreme weather events, you can’t attribute one particular event to a warming world, but you can attribute the intensity, frequency and severity to it. Experts and scientists say that what is happening in South Asia is abnormal , but this is precisely what climate scientists have prophesied.

One of the worst impacted areas in India is Mumbai. In just one day the mega-city received 15% of its annual rainfall. About 60% of Mumbai’s 20 million residents live in slums. The 2011 Indian census put the number of homeless people in Mumbai at just over 57,000, but it is more likely to be in the region of 150,000-300,000. These are the people most at risk when climate-fuelled weather events like the recent floods strike. These events make infections and life- threatening illness more likely, and are made worse by a lack of clean drinking water, and by increased contamination and pollution.

It is believed that both urban sprawl and climate change, combined with a lack of preparedness, are responsible for the destruction and displacement and tragic loss of life in the South Asia floods, which might very well increase significantly as the flood waters retreat.

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