The Increasingly Worrying Droughts In South Asia

Devastating droughts are ravaging South Asia just about every year. The countries affected include Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. All of them are subject to the most damaging outcomes of droughts like agricultural land destruction, an increasingly dehydrated population with little access to clean water and growing social distress.

In cities like Karachi, Pakistan the Water Board can only provide half the required amount of clean water needed to sustain the city. According to research by Sewwandhi S.K. Chandrasekara, over three million hectares of rice fields are destroyed annually in Bangladesh. Nepal suffered a 17 per cent decrease in crop production at a national level in one year. Sri Lanka had a 56 per cent decrease in crop production over 40 years, with acute social repercussions. Lack of water has also brought a growing demand for a black market, creating societal tensions between rich people who buys clean water illegally and people who can’t afford it. The prices are gauged by third-party opportunists and civilians are puncturing governmental water circuits to pump their own water. A remote city could wait almost a week before a water truck shows up and reservoirs are emptying at a rapid rate. The question is, why is this happening?

A climatic event called the monsoon showers most of South-Asia with torrential rain for a few months on a yearly basis, supporting the local agricultural irrigation, drinking water and hydroelectric systems. It has been a vital part of their culture since the beginning of their civilizations and continues to be just that. However, this reliable event is slowly changing for the worst. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “seven of the nine monsoon regions showed a gradual delay in monsoon onset with a continuous increase in global [CO2] emissions, which could create wide-ranging consequences that directly affect approximately two-thirds of the world’s population by the end of this century.”

Climate change has now impacted a meteorological system that first appeared 40 million years ago. By shortening the monsoon, it will have drastic long-term consequences on countries that requires it to survive. In their report, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory also said that “this increased seasonality could exacerbate the prevalence of floods, droughts, wildfires and other extreme climate events that already pose challenges to these regions,” and eventually making these countries unhabitable.

Now, how does the rising temperature affect monsoon rainfall? For rain to happen, the moisture from the soil needs to evaporate and create clouds. Clouds then need to reach a point of instability, where there is too much evaporated water contained in suspension. At that point, this is where rain happens. However, the rising atmospheric temperature complicates this process because the evaporated water required to reach this point of instability is increasing. South-Asia is already dry, and according to Oak Ridge, “heavily populated monsoon regions receive 60 per cent to 70 per cent of their precipitation during the summer monsoon season.” Meaning that during the rest of the year, the soil is mostly dried up, making it difficult for clouds to be created and ultimately postponing the beginning of rainfall, delaying the monsoon season.

So, with the lives of billions on the line, has there been any measures towards resolving the monsoon shift? South-Asian countries have tackled this daunting issue in their own ways, mostly ineffectively. India’s government has implemented a National Disaster Mitigation Plan that invested in a lot of drought prevention, and less on infrastructures. Unfortunately, their infrastructure plan focuses on preserving current water sources and does not invest in permanent solutions that could disassociate India from the monsoon in terms of water supply. Pakistan has relief plans when a drought occurs, but no permanent infrastructures to circumvent yearly droughts. Bangladesh is investing its time in adapting to the ever-changing situation at hand, alternating its agricultural practices and researching in crops that are more resistant to droughts. Yet again, this falls short, because the decrease in rainfall is constant. Eventually crops won’t be able to grow because the soil will be too dry, and the monsoon won’t be reliable enough to build agricultural calendars on it. In terms of effective governmental measures, most of these countries are missing the point. Climate change will continue to shrink their yearly rainfalls. Eventually, their land won’t be able to sustain agricultural practices and, sooner or later, there won’t be any clean water left for the people. A permanent solution must be applied for what is now a permanent problem.

Also, the overall portrayal of this situation has failed to show the scale at which this issue may affect the world. The usual topic for an article that presents a drought is usually focused on a specific country like India, but rarely presents the situation as a South-Asian problem. With this lack of perspective comes a lack of understanding, and this can only hinder the process of finding a lasting solution. Presenting this issue as an englobing problem that involves all of South-Asia could potentially unite these countries in finding permanent solutions.

The historical weight the monsoon has in these countries is undeniable. They have firmly established it as part of their environment, living and dying by it. Trying to find a way around this climatic event is culturally challenging because South-Asian people have been relying on it just like any other season since their civilization’s beginning. But a harsh reality must be faced, the world’s climate is ongoing drastic changes because of greenhouse gases and thinking outside the box is the first step to finding a viable solution.

South-Asian countries should find a way to disassociate themselves from the monsoon as their primary water source. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have direct access to the Indian Ocean, meaning that research and development in desalinization facilities should be a sustainable outcome for them, as they could now have their own sources of water. This could also open the possibility for a hybrid relationship between desalinized water and the monsoon, relieving the burden from seasonal rainfall as one of the sole providers for water.

Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan are landlocked, meaning they do not have access to a large body of water. Nepal and Bhutan’s proximity to the Himalayan glaciers provides them with an immense source of clean water. But glaciers have been melting at a very fast rate, meaning it will become an unreliable source of water in the future. Afghanistan also has access to glaciers, but droughts have handicapped clean water from flowing downstream into local rivers. Additionally, war has limited the capacity for the country to establish reliable filtration and irrigation systems, meaning that many sources of water are contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. Coli.

So, South-Asia should unite in its effort to support themselves during this crisis. Even though some countries may have tensions between each other, the incentive to work together against a problem that may destroy their environment completely should be enough to surpass cultural conflicts. This coalition should aim to quantify water supply, prepare for droughts, invest in desalinization facilities that would supply water reliably, mutually help each other in providing water for irrigation and establish a sustainable system of water supply to remote locations. This would be a good ground to build a united front against a seemingly unbeatable problem.

In terms of media coverage and scientific research, it is important to provide a comprehensive picture of the situation. The monsoon alteration is one of the main culprits behind the repeated droughts in South-Asia. Reporting on a drought every year in India without acknowledging that it is a problem that repeats itself almost every year shows ignorance towards understanding the climatic environment of this region. The monsoon’s delay is an issue that entails huge consequences, and reporters should be aware of that as much as they are aware of greenhouse gases. So, increasing reporting on this would bring a lot of awareness to people. From that, they could see tangible impacts of the greenhouse effect. This would nurture an international conversation on the subject, which could then bring fresh ideas to the table and increase the chances for a practical solution.

Finally, since the nature of the problem is based on greenhouse emission, we all have a part in it. It goes without saying that lowering our global emission would be helpful for South-Asian countries. With a reduced atmospheric temperature, the moisture could accumulate in the soil, and the quota of evaporated water for cloud formation would return to what it was. From that, the monsoon would arrive when it should, and the South-Asian environment would return to its normal state.

Climate change has been unforgiving in its involvement concerning complex environmental issues. It is the cause for countless local problems, but now it is also causing a problem for one of the most influential climatic pattern on Earth, the monsoon. A change in such a prominent meteorological force should be taken very seriously as the consequences of the monsoon’s delay are yet to be known. It would be a world’s first, and it will surely be a never-before-seen crisis.

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