19m Lankans face financial hit from climate change by 2050

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Living standards in the Northern and North-Western provinces will be badly affected by changing climate and the economic engine of the Western Province will also falter, according to a World Bank study that links GDP to the impact of climate change. Published on SundayTimes on 07.10.2018 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/181007/news/19m-lankans-face-financial-hit-from-climate-change-by-2050-314779.html

Going in search of water: Women are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts

The Jaffna and Puttalam districts will be the top hotspots – areas where changes in average weather will adversely affect living standards – while the second most populous district in the country, Gampaha, is among the top 10 most vulnerable districts.

Gampaha has been heavily affected by recent droughts, and the World Bank report points out that western Sri Lanka, along with south-eastern India, northern Pakistan and eastern Nepal, have experienced “unambiguous” temperature rises of 1C to 1.5C (1.8F to 2.7F) from 1950-2010.

The report, South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards, combines average temperature and rainfall information with household survey data to recognise looming changes to the human condition.

Such changes inevitably affect the national economy. “In Sri Lanka, living standards could go down by around 5 percent, and in the worst-case scenario may decline by around 7 percent,” said Professor Muthukumara Mani, a leading economist in the World Bank South Asia Region and author of the report.
“Under the worst-case scenario, GDP will decline by 7.7 percent, an estimated loss of $US50 billion.”

According to the report, about 19 million people in Sri Lanka today live in locations that could become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario. This is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s population.

Stress was laid on the importance of coping with the changes of average temperature as much as the increase of severe weather events. “Global warming is proven, and the climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier. We are not doing enough, heading toward a 3C increase by 2100, and the poor will suffer most,” said Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We also tend to forget long-term effects as more focus is on the short term. In case of extreme events, we at least know kind of action that can be taken such as relocation, evacuation etc. and can have a robust mechanism to deal with natural disasters. But we don’t know much about gradual changes in temperature and how to face them,” Prof. Munasinghe said.

“Even a change of one week or two weeks of monsoon can have an impact on farmers. We still do not know what to do with the gradual changes.”
On current trends, humans would need the resources of two planets to satisfy our needs by 2030, Prof. Munasinghe said, stressing the need to take a sustainable path.

People employed in agriculture will bear the brunt of climate-change-caused hardship and many will face extreme poverty, the report states.
They have already begun moving toward other day jobs as they cannot rely totally on agriculture, according to figures shown at the study’s launch ceremony.

While less developed and agriculture-based households are more prone to livelihood upset, hardship will not be limited to rural areas: in Pakistan, the most vulnerable exist in urban areas. The report also states that female-run households are more resilient.

Dr. Herath Manthrithilake, head of the International Water Management Institute (IMWI)’s country programme, said the highlight of the study is its linking of weather changes to the effects on GDP, which allows policymakers to easily understand the consequences of climate change.

Dr. Manthrithilake said water will be an important resource and we would not be able to look as lightly on water management as we did in the last century. “We need to think about all the water resources and how to use them constructively — how we can combine usage. At the moment, once we use water for agriculture, we discard it. We need to find out how waste water can be reused,” he said.

Kusum Athukorala of Netwater Partnership pointed out that women are foot soldiers of climate change adaptation. “Often, women looking for water in parched land has been the tell-tale picture of drought. So they are more affected, but female-headed households are more resilient to impacts,” Ms. Athukorala said.

Given that five of the top 10 vulnerable districts of Sri Lanka are in Northern Province – with Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi the worst affected – it is important that changes in average temperature and precipitation be considered for planning and development activities in that province.

The urbanised west of the country will not escape a financial hit from climate change. The report states: “The highly-urbanised and densely-populated Western Province, which includes Colombo, is also predicted to experience a living standards decline of 7.5 percent by 2050, compared with a situation without changes in average weather. This is a substantial drop, with potentially large implications for the country, given that the province contributes more than 40 per cent of Sri Lanka’s GDP.”

The report states that as more people move from agricultural areas to urban areas to cope better with the economic effects of climate change these shifts will in turn create new climate impacts, particularly with risks to health.

The World Bank report suggests ways in which Sri Lanka could limit the problems caused by climate change. Increasing the share of the non-agricultural sector by a third could limit the deterioration in living standards from -7 percent to 0.1 percent. Reducing travel time to markets and increasing average educational levels would also help the country.

Link to the World Bank Report https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/28723/9781464811555.pdf

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