The economic price of climate-driven storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts has been calculated for the first time—and found to have already, over the course of the last two decades, cost humanity, collectively, $16m an hour. Two-thirds of the costs were due to loss of life. The rest, to property and other assets.
These are not mere statistics to the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Already, across our region this year, families have borne unbearable losses due to climate disasters. Hundreds of lives have been lost. Many more have been turned upside down as homes, crops, possessions have been lost in devastating floods and landslides. Most recently, last week’s flood of the Teesta River in Sikkim caused by a glacial lake outburst served as a stark reminder that nature’s fury knows no bounds.
This year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction falls as families, scientists and policymakers across our region take stock of the heavy human and economic costs of this monsoon and rising global temperatures.
They will also be looking forward. Because climate-driven disasters are set to soar. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction anticipates we’ll see 560 disasters annually by 2030, pushing an additional 37.6 million people into extreme poverty.
The science shows that our region is a hotspot for risks. Not only those associated with extreme rain and cryosphere change—but also heatwaves, droughts, and toxic air. So, while we count the costs of events this monsoon, the onus is on all of us that serve this region and its people to move with greater speed and ambition to join the dots between science, policy and action, and to make good on the ambition to make early warning for all a reality for those communities exposed.
We badly need donors to recognize the extent of our exposure to risk in this region: both in terms of numbers and scale of hazards, but also in terms of the population size impacted. We urgently need the Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund and the Children’s Investment Finance Fund to release funds ever faster to this region; and for compensation mechanisms to be operationalized.
At ICIMOD we will be advocating for both globally. We will also be working across the region to build out a culture of data-sharing around disaster preparedness and response; to educate policymakers of gaps and key areas for action; to equip communities with innovative and accessible technologies and to scale out community-based flood early warning systems.
Our region shows the huge inequality there is in terms of exposure to hazards worldwide. Our research tells us too that women and vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected when a crisis hits. We pledge to fight this inequality by mobilizing the tools, knowledge and funds to ensure people in this region are resilient to future shocks, placing women and vulnerable group at the heart of our strategies. Early warning for all cannot come fast enough for the countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya.
Pema Gyamtsho is Director General at International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).