Climate change factor in “unprecedented” floods in South Asia

SYLHET, Bangladesh (AP) – Scientists say climate change is a factor behind irregular and early rainfall that caused unprecedented floods in Bangladesh and northeastern India, killing dozens and making millions miserable.

Although the area is not unknown to floods, they usually occur later in the year when monsoon rains are in progress.

This year’s torrential rain has hit the area since March. It may take much longer to determine the extent to which climate change has played a role in floods, but scientists say it has made monsoons – a seasonal change in weather usually associated with heavy rainfall – more volatile in recent decades. This means that much of the rain that is expected to fall in a year reaches weeks.

The northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya received almost three times the average rainfall in June in just the first three weeks of the month, and neighboring Assam received twice the monthly average over the same period. Several rivers, including one of Asia’s largest, flow downstream of the two states in the Bay of Bengal at low altitudes of Bangladesh, a densely populated delta nation.

With more rain forecast for the next five days, the Bangladesh Flood Prediction and Warning Center warned on Tuesday that water levels would remain dangerously high in the north of the country.

The pattern of monsoons, vital to India and Bangladesh’s rural economies, has been changing since the 1950s, with longer periods of drought scattered by heavy rainfall, said Roxy Matthew Koll, climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropics in Tropic. that extreme rainfall is also projected to increase.

Until now, floods in northwestern Bangladesh have been rare, while the state of Assam, famous for its tea plantations, usually experienced floods later in the year during the usual monsoon season. The sheer volume of early rainfall this year that hit the area in just a few weeks makes the current floods an “unprecedented” situation, said Anjal Prakash, director of research at India’s Bharti Institute of Public Policy. of the UN. for global warming.

“This is something we have never heard of or seen,” he said.

A total of 36 people have been killed in Bangladesh since May 17, while Indian authorities say flood deaths have risen to 78 in Assam and 17 others have been killed in landslides.

Hundreds of thousands are being displaced and millions in the area have been forced to flee to makeshift evacuation centers.

Some, such as Mohammad Rashiq Ahamed, owner of a shop in Sylhet, the worst-hit city in northeastern Bangladesh, have returned home anxiously with their families to see what can be saved. Walking in water up to his knees, he said he was worried about the flood waters coming up again. “The weather is changing; there could be another catastrophe at any time.”

It is one of about 3.5 million Bangladeshis facing the same predicament each year when rivers flood, according to a 2015 analysis by the World Bank Institute.

The country of 160 million is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change and the poor are disproportionately affected.

Mohammad Arfanuzzaman, a climate change expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said catastrophic floods like this year could have far-reaching consequences, with farmers losing their crops and being trapped in a debt cycle until children who can not go to school and are at increased risk of illness.

“Poor people are suffering a lot from the ongoing floods,” he said.

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Ghosal reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writers Julhas Alam from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Education Sciences of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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