Monday, March 2, 2009

Water Scarcity in South Asia

This weekend's USA Today had an article about how climate change could affect the monsoon season in South Asia. It is based on a study, using predictive computer models, about the strength and timing of how the monsoon season will change on the Indian Subcontinent.

Tree important results to note from this article: (1) the monsoon season is likely to arrive later; (2) the effects of the monsoon are expected to move further east, towards Bangladesh and Burma; and (3) the rains fo the monsoon season are likely to be less intense.

The effects of the monsoon season on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Nepal should not be underestimated. Often called an 'economic lifeline' for India, the strength of the monsoon is crucial to India's agriculture, which supports about 60 percent of the nation's 1.1 billion population. The monsoon season, which lasts from approximately June through September, can provide 80% of India's annual rainfall. In years when it is stronger or earlier than usual, widespread flooding can occur, but when it is late or light, it can cause widespread crop failure.

The strength of the monsoon also has a strong effect on Himalayan glaciers, particularly in the southeastern Himalayas, around Everest and Nepal. I attended an event last week at the Stimson Center that showed strong evidence that these glaciers are already under pressure from climate change. With reduced rainfall from the monsoon, they will be under even greater pressure.

Because of the geopolitical and economic significance of South Asia, it will be important for more thorough studies to be done on the effects of climate change in this region.

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