Late last month, India and Bangladesh experienced the devastating effect of climate change for the umpteenth time. Between May 20th and 23rd, a series of heavy torrential rains caused widespread flooding in parts of the two Asian countries, leaving millions of people trapped by the waters and at least 57 people dead in total. The floods submerged numerous villages in India's North-Eastern state of Assam and affected some two million people in Bangladesh's Sylhet region, sweeping away entire villages, flooding roads, damaging crops and cutting off access to drinking water and electricity. State authorities in Assam reported that more than 850,000 people in about 3,200 villages were affected by floods triggered by torrential rains. In light of this, nearly 90,000 people have been relocated to State-run rescue shelters while water levels in rivers run high and vast areas of land remain submerged in most districts.
In the Sylhet region alone, in addition to the millions of people affected by the rains, there have been ten deaths, at least 150 roads completely submerged, and extensive damage to infrastructure in the area. Also in Bangladesh, at least 100 villages in Zakiganj were flooded after water flowing in from northeast India breached a major embankment on the Barak River, according to Mosharraf Hossain, the chief government administrator for the Sylhet region.
The Brahmaputra, one of the world's largest rivers, first flooded large areas of farmland, villages and towns in Indian territory. Subsequently, floodwaters from the Brahmaputra and other rivers rushed furiously into Bangladesh, a nation that has been experiencing the effects of violent weather events for years. Already in 2020, torrential rains had submerged at least a quarter of the country, while in 2021 a combination of floods and landslides swept away a large Rohingya refugee camp overnight.
Flooding is a common phenomenon in low-lying areas of Bangladesh, but experts say it is becoming more ferocious and frequent because of climate change. Over the years, those studying the effects of climate change have repeatedly said that both India and Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable because of their proximity to the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, which are experiencing increasingly frequent heat waves. Rising sea temperatures have led to "dry conditions" in some parts of the Indian subcontinent and "a significant increase in rainfall" in other areas, according to a study published in January by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. Each extra degree of global warming increases the amount of water in the atmosphere by about 7%, with inevitable effects on rainfall. In fact, torrential rains have been accompanied by a record-breaking heat wave across South Asia, heat that has reached 50 degrees and forced millions of people to change the way they work and live. Intense heat has been made more than 100 times more likely due to climate change, experts say.
Despite scientific evidence showing that extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods are becoming more frequent, India and Bangladesh are neglecting to pursue a policy of adaptation and damage prevention, with the poorest people paying the price. Much of the flood damage has been exacerbated by ill-conceived development projects that have ignored environmental concerns and input from local people. People living on river islands - both in India and Bangladesh - are often among the poorest, and the limited infrastructure available in these areas is frequently damaged by flooding. Yet, residents of such areas are largely abandoned to the fury of climate change.
In addition, this year's food price inflation is increasing concern about lost crops and profits. It had reached alarming levels in India and Bangladesh even before the current rainy season, and both governments are forced to drastically increase the number of people receiving food subsidies.
Sources consulted for this article: