Scientist: Climate change a factor in ‘unprecedented’ South Asia floods

Scientists say climate change is a factor behind the erratic and early rains that triggered unprecedented flooding in Bangladesh and northeast India, killing dozens and leaving millions of lives miserable.

Although the region is no stranger to flooding, it usually occurs later in the year when the monsoon rains are well underway.

This year’s torrential rains ravaged the region in early March.

It may take longer to determine the extent to which climate change played a role in flooding, but scientists say it has made the monsoon – a seasonal change in weather usually associated with heavy rains – last decades. is more variable.

This means that most of the rain that occurs in a year is coming in a span of weeks.

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People sit on the tin roofs of their homes surrounded by flood waters in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Tuesday, June 21, 2022 (Mahmood Hussain Opu/AP)

The north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya received nearly three times its June average rainfall in the first three weeks of the month, and neighboring Assam received twice its monthly average in the same period.

Several rivers, including one of the largest rivers in Asia, flow downstream from both states, joining the Bay of Bengal at a lower level in Bangladesh, a densely populated delta nation.

With more rain predicted for the next five days, Bangladesh’s Flood Forecast and Warning Center warned on Tuesday that water levels in the country’s northern regions will remain dangerously high.

Important to the agricultural economies of India and Bangladesh, the monsoon pattern has been changing since the 1950s, with prolonged dry seasons accompanied by heavy rains, said Roxy Mathew Cole, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. That an increase in extreme rainfall events was also forecast.

Until now, floods were rare in north-west Bangladesh, while the state of Assam, famous for its tea cultivation, usually faced floods later in the year during the normal monsoon season.

This year’s early rains have made flooding an “unprecedented” situation in the region in a matter of weeks, said Anjal Prakash, a research director at India’s Bharti Institute of Public Policy, who contributed to a UN-sponsored program . Study on global warming.

“It’s something we’ve never heard and never seen,” he said.

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People walk through flood waters in Sunamganj, Bangladesh, Tuesday, June 21, 2022 (Mahmood Hussain Opu/AP)

A total of 36 people have died in Bangladesh since May 17, while the death toll in the floods in the state of Assam has risen to 78, while 17 others were killed in landslides, Indian officials said.

Hundreds of thousands are displaced and millions have been forced to scramble for temporary evacuation centers in the region.

Some, such as Mohd Rasheq Ahmed, a shop owner in north-eastern Bangladesh’s hardest-hit city of Sylhet, have returned home with their families to see what can be saved.

Walking through knee-deep water, he said he was worried about the flood waters rising again.

“The weather is changing..any other calamity can strike at any time.”

According to a 2015 analysis by the World Bank Institute, he is one of about 3.5 million Bangladeshis who face a similar situation when rivers flood every year.

The country with a population of 160 million is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change and the poor are disproportionately affected.

Mohamed Arfanuzzaman, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s climate change expert, said devastating floods like this year could have wide-ranging effects, from farmers losing their crops and mired in debt to children not being able to go to school and The risk of disease increased.

He said that the current floods are causing a lot of trouble to the poor people.