Mumbai, India, August 29, 2017. AP Photo by Rajanish Kakade.
Death, displacement, and distress of South Asia flooding are 10 times worse than Hurricane Harvey.
You might have missed the news in the past week about the most catastrophic flooding this year.
Incessant rains and flooding caused loss in two widely separated areas of the globe. The Toronto Star August 30 reported both. In one area, more than 1,000 people were reported killed by flood waters, and the toll was expected to rise. In the other area, at least 10 deaths were reported, and again the toll was expected to count.
The Star’s report of Hurricane Harvey’s flooding of the U.S. Gulf Coast, which had by then claimed 10 reported deaths, covered a full page, a total of some 950 column inches of words and images. Only 2.5 column inches reported the flooding that claimed more than 1,000 lives from excessive Monsoon rains in South Asia.
The Star’s meagre coverage of the South Asia flooding is all too typical. Australia’s NewDaily online newspaper coverage called it “the world’s forgotten ‘”catastrophe.’”[i]
Hurricane Harvey warranted all its news coverage. The loss of life, of property, suffering, and ruined lives is searing. But the Monsoon flooding in south Asia during the past two months must also command our attention.
It is inexcusable to limit our humanitarianism and compassion to familiar affluent societies. In this age of globalization, we all are, sooner or later, affected by big events anywhere in the world. That applies especially to global warming. It is truly global. To understand its full extent and impact, to glimpse how it will affect each of us sooner, we need to look not only at the Harvey storm, but also at what is happening today in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. And make no mistake: global warming has made the Harvey storm much more deadly, and almost certainly the Asian monsoon flooding.
While most news media accounts have been meager, much is available for those inclined to search the web—at least those who are aware of the Asian catastrophe.
By September 2, 45 million people in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh were reported “adversely affected” by flooding and landslides that damaged or destroyed possibly a million homes (697,000 in Bangladesh alone). The death toll had risen to more than 1,400; more than 1,300 cases of water-borne disease were reported; UNICEF said 16 million children and their families were in urgent need of life-saving support. An estimated 1.8 million children were without schools, said by the Save the Children charity to be the best protection “against things like child labour, early marriage, and child trafficking, which can occur in times of emergencies like floods,” as well as supporting emotional recovery.” With two months still left in the monsoon rain season, “The impact is likely only going to get worse,” declared Children’s Aid.
We don’t know if climate change caused Hurricane Harvey, but “…we can say that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life,” prominent climate scientist and author Michael E. Mann, wrote in the London Guardian.[ii] The complex climate change factors that affected Hurricane Harvey are different than those of the excessive Monsoon rainfalls in South Asia, but it is reasonable to suspect—and prudent to assume—that elevated land and sea temperatures exacerbated the Monsoon rains, as they did then Harvey rain.
With Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the United States, Monsoon flooding in South Asia, almost unprecedented wildfires in North America and Europe, and—more deadly than all of these—the drought, famine, and starvation in Africa and the Middle East, global warming alarm bells are ringing globally, louder than ever before. Perhaps this is the year they will be heard and heeded, even though it is much too late.
[i] Farrah Plummer, The New Daily, http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2017/09/02/south-asia-floods-catastrophe/, accessed 2017.09.03.
[ii] Michael E. Mann, “It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly. London Guardian, 2017.08.28.