Asia-Pacific countries most vulnerable to climate change, warns minister

ISLAMABAD: Five of the top 10 countries affected most by climate change induced disasters during 1994-2013 are located in the Asia-Pacific region, says the Global Climate Risk Index 2015.

Minister for Climate Change Senator Mushahidullah Khan said that a recent UN report `Economic Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific` had cautioned that almost all Asia-Pacific countries particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Philippines were highly vulnerable to climate change.

In a statement issued here on Sunday, the minister warned against negative impact of climate change on developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

`But increased frequency in climate change-induced hydrological and geological disasters is most likely to scuttle Asia Pacific economic growth trajectory as long as disaster preparedness is not strengthened in the region and public infrastructure, agriculture, water, health sectors and human settlements are not made climate-resilient,` he added.

Mr Khan said the report released last week by the United Nations` Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) said the growth potential of Asia-Pacific developing countries home to 743 million extremely poor people was being held back by infrastructure shortages, while existing infrastructures were prone to the escalating number of natural disasters.

According to an Asian Development Bank report titled `The Economics of Climate Change in the Pacific 2013`, storms and floods are becoming endemic to the region, and their increasing frequency and severity can reduce economic growth and development.

Recent earthquake in Nepal, ongoing erratic devastating winter rains/hailstorm in Pakistan`s north and India, Typhoon Noul in Philippines provide a fresh reminder of how natural disasters can reverse economic and social gains, with massive loss of life and livelihoods, the minister said.

The region has borne the brunt of the physical and economic damage of increased disasters. It accounted for 38 per cent of global disaster-related economic losses between 1980 and 2009.

People in Asia and the Pacific are four times more likely to be affected by disasters than those in Africa, and 25 times more likely than in Europe or North America.

Incidents of precarious weather extremes are occurring in the Asia Pacific region more often than any other region of the world. This gives the region, which accounts for nearly half of heat trapping global greenhouse gas emissions, a huge stake in mitigating global temperature rise while adapting to already rising climate change impacts in shape of floods, typhoons, cyclones, sea level-rise and heat-waves.

Quoting some other reports, the minister said some 60 per cent of the region`s people relied on highly climate-sensitive farms, forests and fisheries for their livelihoods. Seven out of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change and disasters caused by natural hazards are in the Asia-Pacific. A decrease in fresh water availability could affect more than one billion Asian people by 2050.

The Asia-Pacific countries urgently need to boost investment in disaster management and climate-resilient infrastructures, he said.

Mr Khan said: `Investing in disaster risk reduction (DRR) as part of climate change adaptation does make sense.

Because, every dollar spent for DRR saves at least $4 in post relief and rehabilitation costs.

Besides, much more can be done to boost these efforts. The region seriously needs, for example, an Asia-Pacific disaster risk insurance scheme, which will benefit from the wider introduction of catastrophe bonds.

The minister said such innovative forms of insurance could bolster resilience by forcing communities to model, price and manage the risks of climate change.

A climate-induced disaster fund for the region that would channel critically needed post-disaster assistance into building resilience against future catastrophic events should also be considered, he said.-APP

Published in Dawn