SOUTH ASIA ∙ Thousands killed in devastating floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal

Monsoon season is devastating for civilians living in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Just this past June through August, rainfalls approached a meter over the span of a few short days[1], ravaging villages and costing the lives of more than 1,200 people[2]. International aid has been deployed to provide survivors with clean water, food stuffs, shelter and other non-durable goods, totalling over 20 million dollars[3] to manage the state of emergency and to begin supporting citizens in reclaiming their villages, many of which remain submerged in flood water. Experts are calling this season the worst the region has experience in 40 years with over 41 million people being affected and 950,000 housing being destroyed by the flood[4]. The number of individuals being impacted is exacerbated in Bangladesh, specifically, by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State leading to the mass-movement of 150,000 refugees into of Bangladesh, one-third of which is now fully submerged[5].

Taking stock of the flood: what are the economic and social costs?

Flooding is not only devastating as a function of immediate loss of life. Beyond population decimation, particularly for those living in poor conditions in the context of these recent events, there are many economic and social spinoffs that will perpetuate damage for years to come.

The loss of livelihoods is an impact that will extend past the immediate weather shock. Cattle, farm fields and property were washed away by rapid flood waters. Current figures from aid organizations estimate that 2.4 hectares of cropland was lost due to the flood[6], while valuable cattle and other livestock were carried away by the flood. This leaves farmers incredibly vulnerable and in the midst of an income shock with little means to recuperate lost resources. These cases are not isolated as almost of the Bangladesh’s population is employed by the agricultural sector, which has a 15% contribution to national GDP[7].

Infrastructure loss is another cost of the flood that will have a lasting, systemic impact on those affected by the severity of the monsoon rains. The negative impacts have the risk to span generations with facilities such as primary school and community medical clinics being destroyed by floods. Further, economic losses of office closures are an additional liability that will negatively affect the economy of affected areas[8], while destruction of transport systems makes rescue efforts more difficult. Given that these public buildings take time and resources to rebuild, it is unknown when the lives of citizens will be restored.

Further, and pressing, is the spread of waterborne disease that is a key threat to survivors. Flooded areas provide fertile ground for diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera to spread. 13,000 cases of watery diarrhoea have been reported since June[9], a serious level increase compared to those reported before the flooding. The spread of disease in combination with clinics being washed away increases the demand for emergency medical services with an estimated 17 million children in India alone requiring nutrition, education and healthcare support[10]. Many children have been left with debilitating injuries that will make it challenging and near impossible to continue their education or participate in the physical labour aspect of agricultural industry, making them excludable from the future economy.

Schermata 2017-09-17 alle 23.46.58

Map of Nepal, northern India and Bangladesh, where monsoon floods and landslides have killed scores of people and displaced thousands. | © AFP | AFP (MAP PICTURE)

The likelihood of impacts has been increased by deforestation and structural aspects of housing

The flooding this summer was particularity devastating due to two key elements of the affected regions’ current structure.

First, while an increase in farming has enabled the region to increase the incomes of those working in the agricultural sector, the resulting deforestation makes for a geography more vulnerable to floods. In absence of vegetation that can absorb excess water, run-off flows were increased, making it easier for homes, property and citizens to be swept away by flood waters.

Second, most homes and structures the areas where flooding occurred are made of earth and mud[11]. These structural materials are easily swept away by water, which led to catastrophic effects when flood waters rapidly fell upon the region.

Climate changes play a definitive role

In addition to the aforementioned grounds that make this flood especially devastating, there is an underlying global condition that corroborated on the severity of the monsoon flooding: climate change.

The World Bank[12] identifies Bangladesh and areas of India and Nepal as particularly vulnerable in the face of flooding, a known impact of a warming climate. The income shocks of flooding have the potential to deepen and perpetuate poverty.

How can policy provide solutions?

Policies that mitigate such severe consequences of future floods, for example controlling deforestation related to agricultural areas susceptible to floods, may be a worthwhile strategy to reduce the impact of runoff that carried away the lives of citizen at such a rapid pace. Further, with strategic planting of stabilizing vegetation, excess flood waters could be absorbed at a faster rate. As well, a strategy could be developed to support citizens in building homes that are made of stronger materials than mud and earth.

On a global level, the case of Bangladesh, India and Nepal should be brought to the foremost attention of international climate change agencies and the upcoming United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convention to be held in Bonn, Germany this coming November. As this is a particularly devastating example about how climate change can disproportionality affect the poor, international cooperation is merited to address global tragedies.

Article written by Kathleen JACK
















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