The population of Southern Asia, which is equal to 24.89% of the world's population, makes it one of the regions that is most vulnerable to climate shocks. Extreme climatic occurrences continue to have an impact on the economics of South Asian countries, affecting more than half of the region's population each year.
Due to climate change, which is mostly brought on by the combustion of fossil fuels, heatwaves have become more frequent and severe in every part of the world, including South Asia. While India is the largest carbon emitter in the region, no other country in the area contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions; Bhutan is the only country in the area that is carbon neutral. As a result, even if every country in South Asia must contribute to the reduction of emissions, India's participation is crucial from a global standpoint.
Temperature change and heat waves
High levels of heat stress would certainly be experienced by residents of South Asia, where the population is expected to increase from 1.5 billion to 2 billion by 2050. In India, March 2022 was the hottest on record dating back 122 years, and Pakistan experienced the biggest global positive temperature anomaly in March. Thus early in the year, extremely high temperatures were recorded.Source: FAOSTAT
The environment throughout the entire world may be affected by heat waves. They have the ability to melt glaciers, resulting in flash floods that might destroy bridges like the ones that tore through Pakistan in May 2022. Hotter air also holds more moisture, resulting in more rainfall, even when other climatic variables can go the other way. A 2021 study discovered that severe heat stress conditions would spread across South Asia even with a 1.5oC rise in temperature. The authors highlight that "wet bulb temperatures" above 32°C, which have a negative impact on human output and are believed to constitute the upper limit of human survivability, are already being experienced in parts of South Asia. A more accurate indicator of the effects on people than temperature alone is the wet bulb temperature, which measures both heat and humidity.
Impact of heat waves
The summers in South Asia are already very hot and humid, rendering the region's inhabitants particularly vulnerable to deadly heat waves. The majority of people live in densely populated cities without regular access to air conditioning, while more than 60% of the population is employed in agriculture and cannot escape the heat by remaining indoors.
In the short and long term, heatwaves have a variety of cascading social, ecological, and economic effects. South Asia is suffering more severe effects due to its significant socioeconomic vulnerability. Morbidity and mortality are connected to temperature increases. High population density, inequality, poor access to healthcare, high pollution levels, and a lack of green space have all been associated with greater rates of heat-related mortality.
At least 90 fatalities are thought to have resulted from the 2022 heatwave in Pakistan and India. According to EM-DAT statistics, the South Asia region experienced 15,524 heat-related fatalities between 1953 and 2022. Over $418 million in losses were incurred as a result of heat waves. More than 3500 deaths directly connected to heat in 2015 were reported in Pakistan and India.
The chart below displays the proportion of working hours lost (2030 prediction) to heat stress (and the resulting effects on health, well-being, and productivity) in each industry and across the economy. Construction and agricultural work are typically done in shaded areas.
Source: ILO estimates based on data from the ILOSTAT database and the HadGEM2 and GFDL-ESM2M climate models
India is the nation most impacted by heat stress and is expected to lose 5.8% of working hours in 2030. India is also predicted to lose the equivalent of 34 million full-time employment in 2030 as a result of heat stress due to its massive population. In 2030, Pakistan is anticipated to lose more than 5.5% of its working hours.
- Deadly heat waves will be common in South Asia, even at 1.5 degrees of warming (2021, March 24) retrieved 17 March 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2021-03-deadly-commonsouth-asia-degrees.html
- Center for International Earth Science Information Network - CIESIN - Columbia University. 2016. Global Urban Heat Island (UHI) Data Set, 2013. Palisades, New York: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). https://doi.org/10.7927/H4H70CRF.
- Population of Southern Asia (2023) - Worldometer (worldometers.info)
- Teaching Climate Change in South Asia | UNICEF South Asia
- South Asia faces increased threat of extreme heat, extreme pollution, study shows -- ScienceDaily
- Saeed, F., Schleussner, C.-F., & Ashfaq, M. (2021). Deadly heat stress to become commonplace across South Asia already at 1.5°C of global warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2020GL091191. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL091191
- Early onset of heatwaves in South Asia calls for a sub-regional action pathway of climate resilience - World | ReliefWeb
- In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s sixth assessment report on climate science - Carbon Brief
- Deadly Heat Stress to Become Commonplace Across South Asia Already at 1.5°C of Global Warming (wiley.com)