Record high temperatures and devastating extreme weather are affecting the globe, not just Southeast Asia. Elijah Ferrian follows up on what’s going on with this extreme global weather.
In December’s issue of AsiaLIFE, Simon Stanley broke down the devastating effects of El Niño on the global climate, and forecasted the drought that South East Asia experienced as a result of the reduction (or inversion) of the east to west winds on our oceans. I’m not sure anyone expected the grade of devastation that has resulted since that report. Vietnam has been experiencing its worst drought in 90 years, and it is definitely not an isolated case.
Vietnam in Crisis
Water levels in the Mekong Delta, Central Highlands, and all over the southern portions of the country are the lowest they have been in almost a century. A shortened rainy season, with significantly low recorded rainfall in 2015, compounded with a surge of salt-dense sea water rushing into now parched, sponge-like earth caused by dried up watersheds, has made agriculture virtually impossible.
The Vietnamese Red Cross Society estimates that over 400,000 households have been affected by the drought. 195,000 of those have absolutely no access to safe drinking water. All in all, 39 out of Vietnam’s 63 provinces have been affected. Out of that number, 12 have declared severe states of drought and saltwater intrusion at varying degrees.
A Global Heat Wave
The 2015 – 2016 El Niño event is one of the most powerful on record, and although Vietnam has been hit hard, it’s not the only country suffering through the crisis. Figures released by NASA last month revealed that the average land and sea temperature was 1.11 celsius (2F) warmer in April of this year than the entire average temperature for April between 1951 and 1980. In terms of climate fluctuations, that’s a huge leap, and virtually guarantees that 2016 will be the hottest year on record.
With all this intense information to read up on, it’s sadly not a surprising turn of events. Climate scientists are sitting at their desks saying, “I told you so”. Since the 1980s they have been predicting this acceleration of global temperatures. It’s playing out exactly as imagined. Perhaps occurring even faster than original projections showed.
This is all having calamitous effects on agriculture. Massive flooding in Argentina, and bone-dry conditions in Brazil, have led to a crash in soybean production. Parts of Africa, specifically Ethiopia, are experiencing their worst droughts in 50 years, resulting in a massive reduction in coffee bean production. Thailand is carefully managing the potential conflict brewing with China, which controls any water needed in an emergency situation like this one. Cambodia shares another affliction with neighbouring Vietnam, with hundreds of thousands of fish washing up on its shores and riverbanks. Many young, sprouting economies are being beaten down by the unrelenting heat and ongoing conflicts over water availability and control. Recovering from these types of weather conditions is no easy feat. And it’s not just agriculture being impacted by the heat wave, either. Ecosystems worldwide are being tormented. The rising temperatures have initiated the third recorded global coral bleaching, and in Australia most of the 2,300 kilometre-long Great Barrier Reef has been affected. In a large swathe of the northern reef, the majority of coral is feared dead, and on some reefs over 90 percent is dying.
At least in the case of Southeast Asia, there seems to be a man-made contributor to the problem, offering some semblance of a short-term solution if an agreement is made. That factor is upstream damming.
Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, China, Cambodia and Thailand all share a vast river system. These nations have been meeting to try to reach a solution on how China, Laos and Thailand choose to control water flow, seeing as they are all in the northern territory of the region and can manipulate the rapid flow of water into the Eastern Sea. We may not be able to control the weather, but we can control water diversion projects.
The highest hope is that there is some reconfiguration, and that this can jump-start the process of rehabilitating the watershed in the agricultural zones.
The first heavy rains in Ho Chi Minh City last month will hopefully bode well for the future, but it would be naive to view the arrival of the wet season as bringing an end to the region’s problems, especially when a lot of hard science is pointing to a 99 percent certainty that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. We can all make informed decisions every day to help combat the effects of global climate change but education is the absolute first step. Hopefully we can all start doing our best to turn back, or at least slow down the ticking clock that is climate change.