In the months of November and December 2015, Chennai received 1,700mm of rainfall, leading to its complete inundation. Photo:
In the months of November and December 2015, Chennai received 1,700mm of rainfall, leading to its complete inundation. Photo:

Nearly 800 million people may be affected by climate change in South Asia by 2050 as changing monsoon patterns and rising temperatures erode incomes, according to the latest forecasts by the World Bank.

One in every two Indians will feel some impact, but the country hit hardest will be Bangladesh, the bank said in a report that identified the region’s main climate hotspots and called for remedial measures.

“Climate changes will impact you based on where you live and what you do,” said economist Muthukumara Mani, its main author.

The report is the first to correlate predicted changes in temperature and rainfall with household survey data on projected living standards. Two different scenarios are used for forecast changes in incomes, based on the degree of intervention to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka are named as severe hotspots due to an expectation that they will face high water stress as rainfall declines.

Average annual gross domestic product is expected to fall by 14.4% in  Bangladesh by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario, which assumes there will be little intervention. India will lose 9.8% of GDP, and Sri Lanka 10%. “Climate sensitive” policies will lessen the impact.

The study concentrated on changes in day-to-day weather, rather than sudden-onset natural disasters, and defined climate change “hot spots” as places where the deterioration is expected to be most severe.

“The analyses reveal that hot spots tend to be more disadvantaged districts, even before the effects of changes in average weather are felt. Hot spots are characterized by low household consumption, poor road connectivity, limited access to markets, and other development challenges,” the bank noted.

India would feel the biggest impact in its vital agricultural regions.

“In India, around 600 million people live in locations that could either become moderate to severe hotspots by 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario, where the living standards would be most affected,” the report stated. Central, northern and northwestern states are the most vulnerable to changes in average temperatures and rainfall.

In cities like Karachi, higher temperatures could lead to lower labour productivity and deteriorating public health. Average temperatures in western Afghanistan and southwestern Pakistan, already among Asia’s hottest areas, rose by a range of 1-3 degrees Celsius annually from 1950 to 2010. 

Cooler countries like Nepal are less likely to experience extreme weather conditions, but those in coastal regions face a different threat: rising sea levels. Small Island Developing States like Maldives are especially vulnerable.

The degree of impact from climate change partly depends on how  countries tackle the issue. If the region reduced greenhouse gas emissions and limited annual temperature rises to two degrees Celsius, as per the Paris Agreement of 2015, the number of Asians at threat of income losses would fall from 800 million to 375 million. 

Risks could also be lowered by boosting educational attainments, reducing water stress and improving job opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors, the World Bank suggested.

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