Drought is expected to become even more frequent and intense in many parts of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, bringing devastating socioeconomic impacts unless actions are taken now to build resilience, according to a new study.
The study, Ready for the Dry Years: Building Resilience to Drought in South-East Asia, was jointly conducted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The study, launched April 24, said there is ongoing drought in almost all countries in Southeast Asia with social and economic impacts already being felt very strongly in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Figures indicated that the Philippines is the third most affected by drought, after Thailand and Cambodia, and ahead of Vietnam, it stated.
During the third quarter of 2018 alone, more than 4.8 million people in the southern part of the ASEAN region were affected by drought. The future could be even worse as climate change brings many more areas to experience extreme conditions with severe consequences, said the report.
“In the far future, the conditions will be more severe. Almost every part of Thailand and Cambodia is likely to have moderate to extreme drought. The northern part of Viet Nam and some parts of Malaysia will have extreme drought conditions. For Indonesia, drought will be evident across the whole country, though in the Philippines the outcome will be more variable. In total, 96 per cent of the ASEAN region is likely to be affected by drought.”
The report enumerates the socioeconomic impacts of drought. “Droughts not only exacerbate poverty, inequality, and food insecurity, they also heighten the risk of conflict. As droughts degrade the natural environment, people find themselves competing for increasingly scarce land and water resources.”
Other potential impacts include human health problems due to limited and poor water quality, public safety threat by increasing forest and range fires, and changes in lifestyle through urbanization.
Droughts can be particularly damaging for the agricultural, fisheries, and forestry sectors, which are the region’s largest source of employment based by industry.
“Over the past 30 years, droughts have affected over 66 million people in South-East Asia. The most severe events have been during the El Niño years. Most of the economic impact of drought-around four-fifths-is absorbed by agriculture. However, the impact extends beyond agriculture. Through both demand and production, agriculture is linked with industry and services,” said the study.
“Drought could bring about severe economic losses for ASEAN Member States through crop damage or failure, as agriculture contributes up to 25.9 per cent of GDP share in the region.”
The study points to the importance of understanding and monitoring drought through investment in better forecasting systems and more efficient forms of response, especially in disaster-prone areas, at both national and regional levels.
“There is a need to establish a robust developmental approach by analyzing how resources are distributed within states, and how governments should be allocating more finance and personnel to risk reduction and capacity building for droughts.”
“More dry years are inevitable, but more suffering is not. Timely interventions now can reduce the impacts of drought, protect the poorest communities and foster more harmonious societies,” the report said.