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Global warming will create havoc in region, say scientists

By James East, Straits Times Thailand Bureau,
21 February 2001

They warn Asean to start preparing for the effects of climate change now, as extreme weather conditions will cause calamities of biblical proportions

BANGKOK - Scientists are predicting biblical-style calamities for South-east Asia as rising global temperatures bring violent cyclones and more flooding and droughts to the region.

Increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are expected to have a massive impact on the region as sea and rainfall levels rise, flooding tens of thousands of hectares of farmland and impacting on tens of millions of people.

And as the extreme weather conditions wreak their havoc, the region's economies will be left to clean up the mess, to pay for the environmental damage, to cope with the destruction of crops and to cover insurance claims measuring billions of dollars.

With global surface air temperatures projected to rise by up to 5.8 deg C by 2100, scientists are now issuing increasingly region-specific and doom-laden predictions about the likely impact.

Although it is considered an inexact science, 700 scientists have banged their heads together to come up with a United Nations report outlining the resulting weather and environmental changes.

Bangladeshi Monirul Qadar Mirza, a water- resources expert based at Toronto University, helped draw up the report.

He said South-east Asia was expected to suffer from higher than average temperature rises and increasingly moody weather swings.

Water-born infectious diseases would also increase, the report said.

Dr Mirza said storm surges would flood inland farms with salty sea water ruining the soil, while rising sea levels would flood delta areas permanently.

Sea levels are predicted to rise by between 9 cm and 88 cm by 2100.

The migration of millions of people to the urban areas of Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam is expected in future due to the permanent inundation of coastal areas, he warned.

This, combined with increased intensity of rainfall, would lead to bigger floods in the Mekong delta.

More health problems could be expected, with the elderly affected by increasing heat, while food shortages would lead to nutrition-related problems.

Dr Mirza said Asean should start preparing for the effects of climate change, building it into development plans and even breeding new salt- and heat-resistant crops.

Harvard University's Professor of Oceanography James McCarthy said: We are moving into uncharted territory. There is no time in the last half a million years that we have had so much carbon dioxide in the air.

Disasters: They have started already