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Facing up to climate change in South Asia

This paper provides an overview of the likely impacts of climate change on three of the least developed countries in South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. In these countries, climate change effects will include changes in temperature, distribution of rainfall, sea-level rise, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. This will have direct impacts on climate-dependent activities in these countries (such as agriculture, hydropower, forest management and nature conservation). In addition, climate change will have indirect, socio-economic consequences for health, education and security.

These least developed countries are most at risk because of their high vulnerability and low adaptive capacity. Weak economies, inadequate infrastructure, poor social development, lack of institutional capacity and high dependence on natural resources all contribute to this vulnerability.

The most damaging impacts of climate change for all three countries will be to water resources and agriculture. The agricultural sector is the major source of employment for all three countries and it will remain so in the near future. Loss of both agricultural land and production will adversely affect people’s livelihoods, especially among the rural poor.

The authors highlight some potential adaptation measures and strategies for the region to lessen the impacts of climate change, variability and extreme events. The goal is to demonstrate that governments and donor agencies must recognise the threat climate change poses to development prospects in South Asia, particularly in LDCs, and ensure that adaptation measures are formulated and integrated intothe wider development agenda.

Climate change will jeopardise countries’ abilities to reach the Millennium Development Goals unless realistic adaptation measures are devised. In addition to mainstreaming adaptation to national and sectoral development policies and measures, other recommendations include:

  • strengthening community-based adaptation measures which build on local experiences and existing strategies for coping with extreme events
  • enhancing early warning systems and preparedness
  • developing new agricultural varieties
  • adopting efficient water resource management both in the winter and monsoon seasons
  • improving inter-agency coordination and cooperation.