40 million Indians at risk from rising sea levels: UN report

United Nations: Nearly 40 million Indians will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050, with people in Mumbai and Kolkata having the maximum exposure to coastal flooding in future due to rapid urbanisation and economic growth, according to a UN environment report.

The Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments said that the worst impacts of climate change are projected to occur in the Pacific and South and Southeast Asia.

It said focusing on the population at risk from sea level rise by 2050, seven of the 10 most vulnerable countries worldwide are in the Asia Pacific region.

India tops the chart with nearly 40 million people in the country projected to be at risk from rising sea levels, followed by more than 25 million in Bangladesh, over 20 million in China and nearly 15 million in the Philippines. It said that changes in settlement patterns, urbanisation and socio-economic status in Asia have influenced observed trends in vulnerability and exposure to climate extremes.

The report said that in many coastal areas, growing urban settlements have also affected the ability of natural coastal systems to respond effectively to extreme climate events, rendering them more vulnerable.

“Some countries, such as China, India and Thailand, are projected to face increased future exposure to extremes, especially in highly urbanised areas, as a result of rapid urbanisation and economic growth,” it said.

It listed Mumbai and Kolkata in India, Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Yangon in Myanmar, Bangkok in Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong in Vietnam as projected to have the largest population exposure to coastal flooding in 2070.

“Many of these cities are already exposed to coastal flooding, but have limited capacity to adapt due to their fixed location,” it said. The report, published ahead of the UN Environment Assembly taking place in Nairobi next week, said the worst impacts of climate change are projected to occur in the Pacific and South and Southeast Asia.

In 2011, six of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change worldwide were in Asia and the Pacific. The report said livelihoods can be impacted negatively by natural disasters, economic crises and climate change.

On coastal areas highly exposed to cyclones and typhoons the poor tend to be more exposed to natural disasters because they live on hazardous land.

Evidence suggests that climate change and climate variability and sea-level rise will exacerbate multi- dimensional poverty in most developing countries.

By 2050, areas of storm surge zones are expected for Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, with a combined total of over 58 million people at risk.

The UN report further said global urban populations are projected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050, with nearly 90 per cent of the increase in Asia and Africa.

Asia, despite its current lower level of urbanisation, hosts 53 per cent of the world’s urban population.

In 2014, there were 28 megacities worldwide, home to 453 million people or about 12 per cent of the world’s urban dwellers; 16 are in Asia.

Tokyo in Japan is the largest with nearly 38 million people, followed by Delhi and Shanghai.

By 2030, the world is projected to have 41 megacities with 10 million inhabitants or more, with 70 per cent of the newcomers in Asia and the Pacific.

It added that this large-scale urban expansion is expected to have direct impacts on biodiversity, carbon budgets and the region’s climate.

“Proper planning of urban clusters and coordinated adaptation approaches are increasingly considered to be solutions for these emerging megapolitan regions,” it said.

Providing public transport, as well as housing, electricity, water and sanitation, for a densely settled urban population is typically less costly and environmentally damaging than providing a similar level of services to a dispersed rural population.

“Therefore, future urbanisation provides a good opportunity for Asia and the Pacific countries to better manage the environmental impacts of their economic growth and to move towards low-carbon and sustainable development,” it said.

The report added that Asia-Pacific continued to be the world’s most disaster prone region in 2015.

About 41 per cent of all natural disasters reported over the last two decades occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, which also accounted for 91 per cent of the world’s deaths attributable to natural disasters in the last century.

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