In Asia, there were 79 recorded catastrophes linked to hydro-meteorological hazard events in 2023.

Asia is world’s most disaster-prone region: WMO report 

Asia is warming faster than the global average. The warming trend has nearly doubled since the 1961–1990 period, says the report

According to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Asia remained the world’s most disaster-hit region from weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2023. The greatest number of recorded deaths and financial losses were brought on by floods and storms, while the effects of heatwaves were increasingly severe.

The State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of key climate change indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat and sea level rise.

In Asia, there were 79 recorded catastrophes linked to hydro-meteorological hazard events in 2023. Of them, more than 80% had to do with storm and flood-related incidents, resulting in over 2000 deaths and nine million impacted individuals. Even though excessive heat is becoming a greater health danger, heat-related death is often not documented, the report said. Asia is warming faster than the global average. The warming trend has nearly doubled since the 1961–1990 period.

Overview of reported disasters in 2023 associated with hydro-meteorological hazards in the Asia region. ESCAP and The International Disaster Database (EM-DAT). The economic damages of some disaster occurrences are not presented in the figure due to data unavailability. In the figure, only cases reported in EM-DAT are considered. All mass movement events have been re-classified as “landslide”.

Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall 

The annual mean near-surface temperature over Asia in 2023 was the second highest on record, 0.91 °C above the 1991–2020 average and 1.87 °C above the 1961–1990 average. Particularly high average temperatures were recorded from western Siberia to central Asia and from eastern China to Japan. Japan and Kazakhstan each had record warm years. 

In 2023, precipitation was below normal in large parts of the Turan Lowland (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan); the Hindu Kush (Afghanistan, Pakistan); the Himalayas; around the Ganges and lower course of the Brahmaputra Rivers (India and Bangladesh); the Arakan Mountains (Myanmar); and the lower course of the Mekong River. Southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels nearly every month of 2023, and the rains associated with the Indian Summer Monsoon were below average.

Melting glaciers  

The High-Mountain Asia region is the high-elevation area centred on the Tibetan Plateau and contains the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions, with glaciers covering an area of approximately 100,000 sq km. Over the last several decades, most of these glaciers have been retreating at an accelerating rate.

The report said that 20 out of 22 observed glaciers in the High Mountain Asia region showed continued mass loss. Record-breaking high temperature and dry conditions in the East Himalaya and most of the Tien Shan exacerbated mass loss for most glaciers. Snow cover extent over Asia in 2023 was slightly less than the 1998–2020 average.

Sea-surface temperatures and ocean heat

Moving on to rising heat in the oceans, the report said that in 2023, the area-averaged sea surface temperature anomalies were the warmest on record in the North-west Pacific Ocean. The Barents Sea is identified as a climate change hotspot because ocean surface warming has a major impact on sea-ice cover, and there is a feedback mechanism in which loss of sea-ice in turn enhances ocean warming because darker sea surfaces can absorb more solar energy than the highly reflective sea-ice.

According to the report, warming of the upper-ocean (0 m–700 m) is particularly strong in the North-Western Arabian Sea, the Philippine Sea and the seas east of Japan, more than three times faster than the global average.

Marine heatwaves— prolonged periods of extreme heat that affect the ocean— occurred in a large area of the Arctic Ocean, in the Eastern Arabian Sea and the Northern Pacific, and lasted three to five months, the report added.

Maximum categories of marine heatwaves and (b) maximum duration of marine heatwaves in 2023.

Rise in extreme events

In 2023, the report mentioned, over 80% of reported hydrometeorological hazards in Asia were flood and storm events. Specifically, floods were the leading cause of death in reported events in 2023 by a substantial margin. In India, Yemen, and Pakistan, floods were the natural hazard event which caused the greatest number of fatalities, highlighting the continuing high level of vulnerability of Asia to natural hazard events, especially floods.

In India, severe heat waves in April and June resulted in about 110 reported fatalities due to heatstroke. A major and prolonged heatwave affected much of South-East Asia in April and May, extending as far west as Bangladesh and Eastern India, and north to southern China, with record-breaking temperatures.

“The South Asian subcontinent is covered on all three sides by the fastest warming tropical ocean and the melting Himalayan glaciers on the north. This has made the region a poster child of climate change. Tropical weather systems develop quickly, are fast moving and small, which makes them unpredictable. Climate change has made the weather much more uncertain and disastrous. As the Indian Ocean waters warm, it supplies more heat and moisture for weather systems to intensify. The number of cyclones in the Arabian Sea has increased by 50% during the last four decades, and more extremely severe cyclones like Tauktae and Amphan are projected to form in the future. The monsoon that sources its energy and moisture from the Indian Ocean has become more erratic, with short spells of heavy rains and long dry periods, causing floods and dry seasons in the same season,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, Senior Scientist, Indian Institute for Tropical Meteorology.

In 2023, a total of 17 named tropical cyclones formed over the western North Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. This was below average but there were still major impacts and record-breaking rainfall in countries including China, Japan, the Philippines and Republic of Korea. In the North Indian Ocean basin, Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Mocha made landfall along the Rakhine Coast in Myanmar on 14 May, causing widespread destruction and 156 reported deaths.

Several extreme precipitation events took place in 2023, the report added. Heavy rainfall led to flooding in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in November. Yemen also suffered heavy rainfall and widespread flooding.

Talking of more extreme events, many parts of Asia experienced extreme heat events in 2023. Japan experienced its hottest summer on record. China experienced 14 high temperature events in summer, with about 70% of national meteorological stations exceeding 40℃ and 16 stations breaking their temperature records.

Scaling up disaster risk reduction 

According to the WMO climate services checklist data, 82% of Member countries in the region provide data services to support disaster risk reduction. However, currently less than 50% of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) in the region provide tailored products for the disaster risk reduction community. 

Therefore, there is an urgent need to advance these efforts and provide more tailored support and services to address strategies and interventions to effectively mitigate rising disaster risks.
“WMO’s State of Climate Asia report is yet again a stark reminder that risk profiles are fast evolving and changing. The need for hyper-granular risk assessment to better manage the hazards and their impacts is even more imperative. You are always exposing your infrastructure & investments to extreme events. Imagine a bridge that is critical in evacuating people, is itself inundated or broken, or completely cut off because of a flood. As the report suggests that both the frequency and intensity of extreme events are breaching thresholds, countries like India are generating both frugal and technological innovations to map, plan and adapt better to these climate extremities. These efforts need a renewed focus to create an enabling environment to brings these innovations from margins to mainstream that can generate jobs, support growth and foster sustainability at a hyper-local level,” said Abinash Mohanty, Climate Scientist and Sector Head- Climate Change and Sustainability, IPE Global.

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