ISLAMABAD: Asia and the Pacific region faces a disaster emergency, with risks surpassing resilience. It urgently needs to enhance its resilience to safeguard development gains from climate change impacts, Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 warned.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) report issued caution that without prompt action, a temperature increase of 1.5 and 2 degrees celsius will exceed resilience capabilities and endanger sustainable development. The projected scenario of 2-degree warming indicates annual losses of nearly $1 trillion or three per cent of regional GDP in disaster-related deaths and economic impacts.

“As temperatures continue to rise, new disaster hotspots are emerging, and existing ones are intensifying. A disaster emergency is underway, and we must fundamentally transform our approach to building resilience,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UN-ESCAP Executive Director, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

The two deadliest flooding events, in 2022, occurred in India and Pakistan, which alone accounted for almost 80pc of the total yearly mortality related to disasters. Flooding was also the disaster which affected the highest number of people in 2022, affecting 33 million people in Pakistan alone.

In April and May 2022, an unprecedented, early, prolonged and dry heatwave affected large parts of North India and Pakistan. India recorded its warmest March on record, with an average maximum temperature of 33.1°C. This was 1.86°C above the long-term average. Pakistan also recorded its warmest March in 60 years.

Current annual losses from disasters such as droughts, floods, heat waves, cyclones, and earthquakes are projected to rise, impacting productivity and exacerbating inequality. The Asia-Pacific region faces a significant intersection between disaster risks, income inequalities, and poverty, with the highest share of economic losses as a percentage of GDP, followed by Africa.

Hazards and urgent adaptation measures

Disaster-related losses are particularly dangerous in both the agriculture and energy sectors. Drought, intense rainfall, and floods are already contributing to decreasing agricultural produce and surging food prices. Those most impacted by a decline in agricultural productivity will be the many farming communities living on the brink of poverty and the urban poor who are vulnerable to food price inflation.

Climate hazards will continue to drive environmental degradation and reduce biodiversity. The increase in hydro-meteorological hazards, caused by climate change, have already resulted in the loss of local species, increased diseases, and driven mass mortality of plants and animals, leading to the first climate-driven extinctions.

Multi-hazard early warning systems are one of the most effective ways to reduce mortality from natural hazards and protect people in multi-hazard risk hotspots. The share of people exposed to multi-hazard risk is forecast to increase to 85pc of the region’s population under 1.5°C warming and 87pc under 2°C warming. Food and energy systems are exposed to increasingly intense and frequent shocks.

Multi-hazard early warning systems could reduce disaster losses by up to 60pc. This is a cost-effective way of protecting people and assets and provides a tenfold return on investment. Countries with low multi-hazard early warning system coverage and high agricultural economic value exposure are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and require the establishment of sector-specific early warning systems to protect agricultural assets.

A regional strategy which supports early warnings for all is needed to strengthen cooperation through the well-established United Nations mechanisms, and in partnership with sub-regional intergovernmental organizations. The report proposed four strategic actions to seize the moment, saying that they can no longer be postponed.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2023

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