Late monsoon rain across Northern India and Western Nepal has triggered catastrophic landslides and floods, killing over 200. Dozens of others are injured or missing. Nepalese authorities remain immersed in searches for over 50 people who have been swept away in heavy rains, landslides, and floods. Similar efforts continue in India, where entire homes were washed away in the aftermath of the storm. At least 88 people were killed, and dozens of others remain missing. Typically, the Indian monsoon season lasts through September, but climate change-related weather irregularities caused delays in rainfall. An August report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that “severe heatwaves and humid heat stress will be more intense and frequent during the 21st century over South Asia.” The report ominously warned of erratic monsoon seasons, compounded by the catastrophic effects of glacial retreat in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, causing sea-level rise and higher risks of flooding. Those projections, unfortunately, are increasingly becoming the reality for those on the ground.
Despite the global nature of climate change-related consequences, impacts will be particularly devastating for vulnerable populations, many of whom are settled in areas with little protection from climate change-induced disasters and have little hand in contributing to emissions. A 2020 IPCC report warned that increasing global temperatures will “disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and population displacements.” Already, these effects can be seen in Nepal and India where the most recent flooding has wiped out crops and homes. These are major setbacks to families already grappling with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The people of Nepal and India are sandwiched between the pandemic and worsening climate disasters, heavily impacting millions of lives and livelihoods,” says Azmat Ulla of the International Federation of Red Crescent Societies, a humanitarian network currently deploying aid in Nepal.
A recent study at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences warned of linkages between earthquakes, rainfall, and food insecurity in the land-locked country. Heather Randell, assistant professor of rural sociology and demography issued a statement describing the effects of climate change on Nepalese communities, “Nepal is projected to experience increased monsoon rainfall variability, with a greater frequency of above- and below-normal rainfall as well as heavy rain events… These heavy rainfall events can also trigger flooding and landslides, which can lead to negative agricultural, health and economic impacts.” According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 36% of Nepali children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Climate change-related weather abnormalities are likely to cause an increase in poverty and food insecurity nationwide. The effects of climate change are equally as detrimental in India. “India is the most densely populated region in the world, with relatively high sensitivity and low resilience to changes in its climate, all of which makes it very exposed and vulnerable to any changes that may occur during the rest of the 21st century,” Professor Mansour Almazroui from the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia said in a 2020 report. Climate change poses a very real, imminent threat globally. For years, scientists have warned of its consequences, not only to the environment and planet but also to the human beings that inhabit it. Failure to curb various emissions could render densely populated areas entirely uninhabitable, fueling food insecurity, inequality, mass migration, and displacement. Last year alone, climate-related disasters displaced more than 30 million people and 90% of the planet’s refugees came from countries “least able to adapt to the climate crisis.”
UN member states worked feverishly to deliver the 2013 Paris Climate Accord, a legally binding instrument that details comprehensive climate change mitigation efforts, including drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to regulate changes in the Earth’s temperature. Recent reports indicate that member states are highly unlikely to reach Paris Accord goals at our current pace of emissions. An August IPCC report warned that the Earth’s temperature is on track to reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by around 2030, a decade earlier than projected a mere three years ago. The report warns that “climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible, at least during the present time frame.” We must mitigate, and focus our efforts on preventing further damage to our environments and planet, facilitating an immediate global response. “Our focus should be on building climate-resilient physical and digital infrastructure along with inculcating social and behavioral changes in citizens and communities,” says Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water. Countries must brace for the imminent consequences of climate change. This includes strengthening infrastructure to be more resilient to extreme weather event, implementing disaster drills and establishing evacuation routes.
Ultimately, the only way to mitigate the effects of climate change going forward is to facilitate an immediate global response, drastically curtailing emissions and shifting towards sustainability in all facets of life. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, emphasizes, “The time has passed for diplomatic niceties. If governments — especially G20 governments — do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering. But all countries need to realize that the old, carbon-burning model of development is a death sentence for their economies and for our planet.” It is absolutely imperative that progress is made at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, especially an establishment of mutual trust amongst nation-states. All UN member states must reconvene and pressure peers to adhere to the Paris Climate Accord agreements. The message should be clear; economic prosperity for some cannot come at the cost of our planet and the lives of other people.
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