Jo Khinmaung-Moore, Tearfund’s Senior Policy Adviser on climate change and energy explains what’s happening in the flood-hit areas, why the flooding is so bad this time and how Tearfund (and you) can make a long-term difference.
How bad are the floods?
The current floods are the worst in decades and are happening across a larger area than tends to be affected during the monsoon. As of 31 August an estimated 41 million people have been affected.
How has this flooding occurred?
Heavy monsoon rains have triggered severe flooding across Bangladesh, Nepal and India. Rainwater from the Himalayas is travelling down through Nepal’s lower lying areas, through swollen rivers in north-east India and eventually through the floodplains of Bangladesh to the sea.
Monsoon rains are normal for South Asia at this time of year, but the scale of flooding this time is much worse. Usually water would fill up rivers and then overflow onto the floodplains. This year, water has not been able to flow away and drain as it would normally.
People’s homes are submerged in water and they are having to leave their villages in search of dry ground. Some villages have been cut off by the rising waters, leaving people stranded.
Has climate change made this worse?
We can’t say if this specific flooding is directly caused by climate change. However there is a clear relationship between climate change and severe, erratic weather patterns like the ones we are seeing here and in Texas at present. This is the fourth flooding in Bangladesh this year, and the floods are bigger and more intense than in previous decades.
It’s a huge injustice that the poorest communities suffer the most from climate change, when they’ve contributed the least to the problem.
Are there any other human factors at play?
Poverty is key. It means that people are more vulnerable when flooding hits and disaster strikes – particularly as so many are almost wholly reliant on the land for their livelihoods. Poverty reduces their options and it forces them to live in and grow food in riskier areas. Below standard drainage, some deforestation and poor infrastructure planning, are also compounding the situation.
What are the key things Tearfund is doing at the moment?
Tearfund is working with partners to reach those affected by the flooding. Our partners have been working day and night to help people reach safety and gather at evacuation points. Through our partners, we are distributing dry food and nutritional supplements for children. We are also supplying safe drinking water, hygiene kits and are running emergency medical camps. Tearfund church partners have been gathering up essential items to provide for those who have lost everything. We are distributing tents, clothes, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and cooking utensils.
Are communities any better prepared this time?
Tearfund has been working with partners in the three countries to prepare them for disasters like this and this has reduced the impact. We have trained local communities to be better equipped, more resilient and to adapt and respond to natural disasters and the changing climate. For example, we have been encouraging farmers to grow rice varieties that can survive longer periods of time submerged underwater without rotting. This increases the likelihood of crops surviving floods. We have also worked with communities to map out evacuation routes to safe ground and put early warning systems in place.
If the climate has already changed so much in this region, can we still make a difference?
Love does no harm to its neighbour.
In a word, yes.
The climate is changing fast, and people living in poverty, who are least responsible for it, are often the most vulnerable to its impacts, including disasters and flooding. Millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk. The Paris Climate Agreement seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C. To make a significant difference to nations like Bangladesh, governments need to take urgent action in order to limit the total global rise to 1.5°C.
It’s a huge injustice that the poorest communities suffer the most from climate change, when they’ve contributed the least to the problem. Let’s call for justice in a changing climate.
Find out how you can make a difference on our Tearfund Action page.
How can we pray for the situation?
- Please pray for the people who have been severely affected by flooding across South Asia.
- Pray for safety for those whose homes, livestock, crops and livelihoods have been washed away.
- Pray for wisdom in Tearfund's response to these devastating floods, that we would be able to reach those who are most in need.
Please help the people affected by these floods by supporting Tearfund’s Disaster Response work.