As I write this, winds in Southeast Asia have switched directions, bringing moist air from the ocean and causing torrential downpour over countless cities and village. It is the peak summer monsoon season — typically from mid-July to mid-August (varying from region to region). This marks a period of intense rainfall, delivering water and drenching the soil of nations across south and southeast Asia, northern South America, and, usually to a lesser extent, Northern Australia and West Africa.
To better emphasize the scale of monsoons, close to half of the world’s population lives in a region affected by this intense rainy season. Monsoon season is an intensely sensitive yet vital part of life in these regions.
In India, one of the nations most-highly affected by monsoons, as well as neighbouring countries, 75% of annual rainfall is supplied during the monsoons. This means drinking water, bathing water, water for crops and food preparation, hydroelectric power, and the countless other necessary uses of water. The monsoon season is, for many regions and communities, a lifeline and a necessity for agriculture, livelihood, and basic survival. The deep dependence on monsoons means that even a slight shift in timing or amount of rainfall can be chaotic and lethal.
Monsoons are triggered by a contrast in temperature between land masses and oceans, which triggers a reversal of wind patterns, causing an increase in precipitation, which we call a monsoon. As temperatures increase as a result of climate change, monsoons are altered, and levels of rainfall are skewed. Monsoons are becoming more unpredictable and irregular, entering periods of reduced rainfall in certain regions, specifically southern Asian regions, which has been documented by researchers from the past few monsoon seasons, and is projected to worsen in the future.
Using Vietnam as a case study, in 2016, reduced rainfall as a result of intensified La Niña conditions, induced by climate change, caused 2,000,000 people to experience water insecurity, with 600,000 hectares of crops being affected and damaged, triggering a humanitarian crisis. Conditions like these were mirrored in neighbouring Asian nations, including Thailand, Myanmar, India (where an estimated 300 million people were affected), and other highly-populated regions.
This specific drought continued into 2017, creating long-term food insecurity as a result of two weak monsoon seasons. This scenario of the life-threatening effects of a reduced monsoon reason is representative of what is predicted to be a long-term issue as a result of climate change.
As stated earlier, the primary issue is the increasing irregularity of monsoons, with periods of intense dry spells, sometimes followed by an unpredictably intense monsoon season. This year, rainfall levels increased, clocking-in at levels higher than normal. This is creating devastating floods and landslides, damaging communities that have already been rendered vulnerable after economic losses felt by past dry-spells.
Already, 511 people have been killed in India as a result of these natural disasters, as well as one million livestock, 81,146 hectares of crops, and 55,000 houses being damaged or destroyed. Refugee camps in Bangladesh have also been nearly destroyed, creating new humanitarian issues for already-vulnerable populations. The volatile and irregular rainfall levels of monsoon seasons are creating deadly problems for affected communities, which could only worsen as climate change intensifies.
Thus, the question remains — what is the solution? While climate change research is important to make educated predictions on the intensity of the monsoons in order to properly prepare these communities, research and education on climate change is also important for long-term solutions. Understanding the causes and effects of irregular monsoon seasons is a crucial foundational step in creating a long-term plan of action against climate change. It is also important to note that while monsoons may only affect one portion of the world, it must be a global initiative against climate change that solves this issue.
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