Unprecedented monsoon season leads to destruction in South Asia

September 4, 2017

 

This summer has seen breakouts of extreme weather, with Hurricane Harvey making top headlines with its destruction in the south of the United States. However, storms in South Asia have afflicted equally severe damage and left just as many lives uprooted. The monsoon season in southern Asia typically lasts from June to September, but the usual heavy rains have reached new extremes, causing landslides, floods and the spread of disease. In Nepal, India, and Bangladesh alone, over 1,200 lives have already been lost; forty-one million more are struggling to cope. Though well-needed and usually well-received by farmers and their crops, this monsoon season has defied expectations and brought with it unexpected chaos.

 

Homes are deeply submerged underwater, crops are washed completely away, and loved ones have gone missing, leaving families to fear the worst. Loose soil and poor infrastructure has led to an increase in landslides and contributed to crumbling buildings. In Nepal, mud houses stood no chance against incoming floods; people now have no choice but to live in disease-ridden camps under plastic tarps until water levels recede. In Bangladesh, aid groups report the worst flooding in 40 years, with 30 percent of the country now underwater and over 700,000 homes either flooded or destroyed in landslides. Right beside Bangladesh, in India, over 32 million people have been affected. Roads are flooded and impassable, leaving villages isolated from any means of help from neighboring areas. Rather, relief groups must send aid via air transport or alternate side routes.

 

Diseases often spike during monsoon season, with encephalitis, diarrhea, and cholera being some of the most common. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, often signaled by fevers, headaches, and sometimes seizures. In South Asia, flooded areas during monsoon season become breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry the disease and spread it across villages. Meanwhile, in Yemen further west, flash floods and heavy rainfall may also exacerbate a cholera outbreak that has already killed around 2,000 people. 

 

While rains are letting up in some areas, the worst is still being seen in others. At the end of August, rains in India led to a complete shut down of the financial capital, Mumbai—something that hadn’t occurred since the flooding of Mumbai in 2005. Residents were advised to stay indoors and abandon their cars in face of rising tides. Unfortunately, unmonitored and inadequate drainage systems in certain impoverished areas mean that the drainage process may be a long one. Even when rains do begin to subside, loss of crops is predicted to lead to long-term food insecurity. Combined with a lack of clean water and a plethora of diseases, lives will continue to be affected long after the floods recede.

 

The damage caused by one natural disaster does not undermine the damage of another; the storms that have wrecked havoc both at home and abroad have both caused extreme hardship. Furthermore, just as Hurricane Harvey is breaking records with the amount of rainfall, the amount of flooding and rainfall in Asia has also never before been seen. The fact that both of these disasters are reaching unprecedented heights have caused climate experts to question how natural catastrophes are changing in face of possible shifting climates.

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