The View From Asia

Anxieties increase as the mercury rises

Asia News Network writers discuss the repercussions of extreme weather events. Here are excerpts.

Cracks run through the partially dried-up river bed of the Gan River in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, China, on Aug 28, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Welcome to the desertification of Planet Earth, folks

Jason Godfrey

The Star, Malaysia

If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll have noticed a pretty common theme this August 2022: Record-breaking droughts everywhere.

If you're as worried as I am, your Twitter feed is full of photos showing drought-hit dried-up rivers in China, Europe and the United States. But this is all missing the point: calling these occurrences "drought" is misleading.

The problem with calling what's happening all over the world right now "drought" is that it implies we will return to the normal pattern of rainfall; that there will be a return to normal weather. This is wrong.

Climate change is altering our environment and raising temperatures to a point where all our models of past weather and what we consider "normal" are no longer valid. Because we are still dumping tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, we can't even say, well, these droughts are the new normal, because we are still making the situation worse - or, in other words, droughts are going to get worse.

And already we're seeing adverse effects of these climate change droughts that go beyond people running out of water and crops dying. In China, it was reported the authorities were trying to seed clouds to induce rainfall. This is a desperate act that could have adverse environmental impacts.

Besides potentially worsening the environmental situation, the other issue becomes: Who owns the rain? Seriously.

What if one country seeds the clouds over its land but those clouds blow over to another country and it rains there - and now there's no more moisture to produce rain in the first country.

There is no shortcut to solving climate change. It's going to be a slow, hard slog and it starts with the media reporting things for what they are, and these are not droughts. This is the desertification of large areas of our planet due to the climate crisis.

Environmental disasters a constant affliction in our lives

Joel Ruiz Butuyan

Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippines

As the world gradually recovers from the massive havoc caused by the pandemic, mankind is being subjected next to multiple devastations caused by extreme weather conditions.

As our attention becomes less focused on Covid-19, we are again noticing that our planet is being baked dry in so many parts, and drowned in many other parts.

China is experiencing an extreme and extended heatwave and drought, resulting in a slowdown in its economy. The scorching heatwave has brought an unprecedented temperature of 45 deg C in some parts, igniting wildfires.

Pakistan, which shares a border with China, is experiencing catastrophic floods described as a "monsoon on steroids".

At least 33 million people have been impacted by floods, representing 15 per cent of Pakistan's population, at least 1,136 people have been killed, and damage estimates are at least US$10 billion (S$14.1 billion).

Except for severe tropical storm Florita, which caused substantial damage to a swathe of Luzon island a few days ago, the Philippines has largely been spared, so far this year, of the kind of extreme weather conditions that have battered the countries earlier mentioned.

However, severe flooding has been experienced by several of our urban centres, even if they've been due merely to flash floods. As I write, a super typhoon will graze the Philippine Sea, and although it will not hit any of our islands, the increasing frequency of a super typhoon in our vicinity will constantly terrorise us like Russian roulette.

The consequences of the severe environmental disasters in other parts of the world will hurt our country in an impactful way.

The resulting shortages in staples like corn, wheat, sugar, rice, soya beans and sunflower oil supplies, and the increased demand for fuel for power generation, will distress us with high prices.

If we are experiencing shortages and high prices now because of the Russia-Ukraine war, the yearly occurrence of environmental disasters that are getting stronger and stronger threaten to normalise these high prices.

The Covid-19 pandemic will probably bug us for a year or two more. But the devastation and destruction that will be caused by the increasing frequency and severity of environmental disasters threaten to become a constant affliction in our lives.

Scale of destruction

Zehra Waheed

Dawn, Pakistan

As the world acknowledged the significance of water to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems during World Water Week, Pakistan continued to grapple with one of the biggest water-induced disasters in its history - one that definitively spells out the dependency between climate change and water.

The "organic" growth of towns and cities on greenfield lands that absorbed water, the development of infrastructure that does not allow water to flow through - or worse, infrastructure built upon pre-existing monsoon season water channels - has certainly created a situation where our urban areas especially, and human settlements in general, have become vulnerable to the atrocities that nature might mete out to us.

But there is an argument to be made that this flawed developmental approach, though undoubtedly one of several faulty avenues that our story of development leads to, is not at the heart of the story.

The quantum of change that has taken place in global weather systems recently because of changing living patterns and resultant climate change is undeniably the biggest cause of this year's havoc and misery. From forest fires ravaging lives and livelihoods across Europe to floods across Asia that have done the same, the underlying factor remains climate change.

What is vastly different about an emerging economy like ours is, on the one hand, severe financial constraints (for response, recovery and rebuilding). But, on the other hand, we have been directly hit by the storm. We have been identified as, and remain, one of the countries most prone to disaster induced by climate change.

We need to accept that what remains different for us is the sheer scale of what had already been predicted - and has happened this year.

When Jackson, Mississippi, faces flooding, how it is affected is vastly different from when floods hit smaller towns in Sindh.

When Jackson's water treatment plant floods, it leaves the 180,000 population without clean drinking water - and probably with no immediate access to it for several weeks or months.

When towns in Sindh flood, people's homes are swept away, lives are lost, livestock perishes, and crops are destroyed, leaving families with no income for the coming year, and there is no access to healthcare, education or safety and well-being for entire populations for the foreseeable future.

The National Disaster Management Authority estimated that more than 33 million people had been affected (among them 8.2 million were declared as the "most affected") across all the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan.

But what underlies this sheer scale of destruction and human misery is, as per reports, this year's 190 per cent increase in rainfall over the average the country received in the last 30 years.

This deviation is also possibly the "new norm" that we ought to etch in our memories. Pakistan had been cited as being highly vulnerable to climate change for some time - the cogs in the wheels have now begun a new dance and to play another tune. And we ought to hear them, accept them.

China must guard food security amid climate change

Cui Ningbo and Zhao Duanyuang

China Daily, China

This summer has been the hottest in China since 1961. Intensification of subtropical highs and heatwaves in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River have raised temperatures above 40 deg C in many places along the river.

Thanks to the heatwaves, southern China has not seen much rain in the past month, with the rainfall shortage in the Yangtze River basin being 45 per cent year on year.

In contrast, northern and north-eastern China have been witnessing frequent downpours, even thundershowers. And with heavier rainfall forecast for North China, the region is likely to get 20 per cent to 50 per cent more rainfall than usual.

Given these factors, along with the drought in the Yangtze River basin and flooding in many places in the north, it has become even more important to boost grain production and strengthen food security.

To begin with, the authorities should take precautionary measures against droughts and flooding.

In order to reduce the impacts of extreme weather events such as floods, storms and cloudbursts on food production, the government should improve the drainage system to reduce the chances of flooding, build storm water basins to hold rainwater and strengthen dams and dykes to prevent breaches which lead to floods.

Second, areas vulnerable to extreme weather events should take special precautionary measures including saving water, dredging, pumping and digging wells to secure water supply, and guarding against pests and diseases to withstand droughts and ensure healthy food production.

Third, there is a need to improve farming by using technology and improving the health of the farmlands, so farmers can bear the impacts of droughts and flooding. For example, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, through which the Yangtze River flows, have not been that affected by the drought this time because of their highly efficient irrigation network and water infrastructure.

But apart from promoting water conservation and improving the drainage system, the authorities should also increase the fund allocation for research on seeds, and ways to reduce the threat of pests and diseases, in order to strengthen food security.

Fourth, China must remain vigilant against global warming and expedite high-tech development. As the changing weather pattern and frequent extreme events are the results of global warming, China should continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will also help it to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

It is also necessary to reform the research and development sector in a way that it spurs innovation and develops technologies that can help reduce emissions at a faster rate, as well as strengthen laws and regulations to better protect intellectual property rights, especially on low-carbon technologies.

This will help China mitigate and better adapt to climate change, which in turn will help boost food security.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media titles.

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