Monday, July 22, 2019

The Deadly Collusion of Heat and Poverty

The combination of heat and poverty threatens the lives of millions of people in countries like India, China, Nepal, Zimbabwe.  If we do not substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, it will get much worse for everyone but a warmer planet will be particularly brutal for the world's poor.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) India is among the countries that will suffer the most from climate change. That is not only because of an increasing frequency and duration of heatwaves it is also because India is one of the most populace countries in the world with with one of the highest incidences of poverty. More than 86 percent of the country lives on less than $5.50 per day.

The plight of the poor in India is being made impossible by extreme heat. During the deadly heatwave in Bihar, India's most economically disadvantaged state, schools and colleges were closed for almost a week. The government urged people to stay indoors, however, that is difficult for those who need to work to survive.

According to MIT research much of South Asia may soon become unlivable. As explained by one of the researchers who took part in the research, the places in India where survivability may be difficult overlap with already highly vulnerable areas. This view was expressed by Eun Soon, assistant professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Asia is especially vulnerable because of its dense population and low incomes. People that rely on fishing and agriculture may not be able to earn a living.

"If we continue to produce the greenhouse gases at the current pace, one of the most populous regions in the world will not avoid the high risk of the deadly heat wave, facing an upper limit on human heat tolerance," Eun Soon said.

In poorer countries the average person may have no way of escaping the heat. This represents a serious threat to human health and for many people it may prove fatal. A 2018 World Health Organisation (WHO) report suggests that 38,000 people could die each year between 2030 and 2050 due to heat exposure. The report says the people in developing countries are among the most vulnerable.

Extreme heat is a serious problem in many ways. Some, like heatstroke and respiratory ailments are obvious, however, other lesser known impacts have been far more deadly. Water born illnesses due to a shortage of potable water is one of the biggest killers in the world. Since World War II, contaminated water has killed more people around the globe than all wars and other forms of violence combined.

Heat is also related to drought which directly impacts subsistence agriculture. More than 1 billion people have suffered from drought in the last decade. In 2017 the World Bank reported that since 2001 drought has wiped out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year.

According to research, more than 1.3 billion people live on deteriorating agricultural land. Seventy-five percent of people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. Two and a half billion smallholder farmers, herders and fisheries are vulnerable to climate change.

The lack of refrigeration in some areas means that things like food and medicine will spoil more quickly compounding the problems of hunger and health.

Extreme weather is on the rise due to global warming. The number of people affected by extreme weather has increased from 102 million in 2015 to 204 million in 2016. In 2017 extreme weather events cost a total of $335 billion and drove a 49 percent increase in economic losses over the previous decade. Such events are especially devastating for people who are already struggling with poverty.

The world's poor are on a collision course with an increasingly deadly climate. The sad irony is that those who did the least to cause this crisis are the ones who suffer the most. This is a social justice issue and the authors of this calamity are complicit.

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