"The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids -- the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently as floods submerged much of the country.
More than 1,500 people have been killed and 33 million others impacted in one of the country's worst monsoon seasons in over a decade. The Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that the national rainfall was 243 per cent above average, while Balochistan and Sindh provinces registered +590 per cent and +726 per cent excess precipitation in August 2022.
“Fingerprints” of climate change
The world attribution study released on 15 September 2022 shows “fingerprints” of climate change on this extreme monsoon rainfall in Pakistan. The researchers focused on two aspects of the event: the 60-day period of heaviest rainfall over the Indus River basin between June and September, and the 5-day period of heaviest rainfall in Sindh and Balochistan. The study observed that the flooding occurred as a direct consequence of the extreme monsoon rainfall throughout the summer season (60 days). The impact was exacerbated by shorter spikes of very heavy rain (5 days) in August. The return time for both events is about 1 in 100 years in today’s climate scenario, making it a rare occurrence. The study also indicates that, along with other drivers, it is likely that this extreme rainfall was caused due to the global warming by 1.2°C. ESCAP analysis indicates that with a temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C, South Asia will face the highest impact of heavy precipitation, followed by agricultural drought and hot temperatures/heatwaves. In a recent video message, the UN Secretary-General called South Asia a "climate crisis hotspot" where people were 15 times more likely to lose their lives due to climate change impacts.
Monsoon – a risk driver
The Asian summer monsoon impacts lives and agrarian economies throughout Asia. The occurrences of floods and droughts coincide with the Indian sub-continent and East Asian monsoon. The floods hit during the south Asian monsoon, which typically bring seasonal rains to the Indian subcontinent between June and September.
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 estimates the annualized disaster losses to be up to US$675 billion, nearly 85 per cent of which are caused due to monsoon related droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. Further, monsoon aggravates the interplay of diseases, disaster and climate change. The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2021 highlights that adding biological hazards to the disaster riskscape increases current annual average losses to US$780 billion. Under a worst-case climate scenario, annualized losses will double to $1.4 trillion or 4.2 per cent of regional GDP. New hotspots of intensifying or emerging risks will arise. Therefore, the key to developing resilient communities in South Asia is to effectively tackle the impending riskier monsoon seasons. Two immediate action points are highlighted below:
There have been considerable advances in predicting the Asian summer monsoon. Impact-based forecasting represents a paradigm shift from ‘what monsoon will be to what monsoon will do’. The impact outlook for Asian monsoon can be effectively utilized. For example, the seasonal forecast from June-September 2022 brings forth the provinces likely to face above-normal rainfall. Broadly, hotspots that stand out in the forecast are the same as the provinces hit by the floods in Pakistan. These include Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Islamabad. This shows that despite certain limitations of seasonal forecasts related to granularity of data and probabilistic nature of the analysis, the outlook rightly identifies the hotspots of future risks. Hence, seasonal outlook for precipitation can prove to be an essential decision-making support to policymakers on the ground.
With this objective, ESCAP, through its Multi-donor Trust Fund on Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness and in partnership with Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, has established national monsoon forums/climate outlook forums in high-risk countries of South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific small island developing states to support anticipatory actions. In this regard, South Asia Climate Outlook Forum, South Asia Hydromet Forum, and Regional Learning Platform are important initiatives.
Taking anticipatory steps to safeguard food, water, energy and livelihoods is a key challenge. A comprehensive risk management approach is a critical means to make food systems, especially agri-food production more resilient. Resilient agricultural land use, water resilient infrastructure and nature-based solutions are the key components to the nexus approach. The latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) shared by many countries bring forth a water-energy-food nexus approach. Working on resilience in these priority sectors can produce transformative adaptation outcomes and inter-sectoral synergies at all administrative levels. Transboundary monsoon represents shared vulnerabilities and risks. Hence, adaptation measures must include integration of the climate change scenarios with a nexus approach. This will result in transformative adaptation and resilience to riskier monsoon seasons on a warming planet.