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GREEN SOUTH ASIA SEEING RED

Written by RAJIV GUPTA

GREEN South Asia is now ‘seeing red’ as the gloomy clouds of environmental degradation are looming large over this lush green region. Apart from climate change, unplanned population growth and urbanization, unbalanced economic development and unsustainable production and consumption are instrumental in creating this environmental catastrophe. Despite having only 4.8 percent of the world’s land area, South Asia supports a population of approximately 1.7 billion, which is burgeoning at the alarming rate of 1.45 percent per annum. This has a distinct negative impact upon the environment since the population of South Asia is expanding beyond the carrying capacity of the region.

Demographic changes are directly impacting the region like land degradation, resource depletion, dwindling food security, air quality degradation etc. The shift to a consumerist lifestyle is also promoting resource inefficiency in the region. Actually, the economic growth of a country is closely associated with industrialization and technological innovations.

In fact, industrial production has a major influence on the environmental quality since the consumption and production of goods and services are essential components of economic development. On the other hand, production depends heavily on the supply of natural resources. Unfortunately, industrialization is occurring at a rapid rate in the region at present, leading to emissions in the form of oxides of sulphur, nitrogen, and greenhouse gases. Such deterioration of air quality can be observed in several major South Asian cities like Karachi, Dhaka, Delhi, Mumbai and many others. Incidentally, a number of subsidies implemented by the government for supporting the under-privileged have a detrimental effect upon the environment as they have encouraged the unsustainable consumption of resources. A significant example is the subsidy on fossil fuels, which encourages a country’s reliability on fossil fuels, leading to greenhouse gas emissions. As a matter of fact, the increased GHG emissions in the region are one of the major anthropogenic causes for climate change. In a nutshell, South Asia is extremely vulnerable to climate change on account of its geography, demography, poverty and other characteristics.

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These negative catalysts of change have a detrimental effect on the food, water and energy security in South Asia. Climate change will impinge upon the poor and vulnerable communities of the countries in a disproportionate manner. Apart from the changes in weather patterns, South Asia faces a definite threat from extreme weather events, sea-level rise and glacial melt. Such changes would cause severe deterioration in the region’s agricultural productivity, biodiversity, water availability and human health.

Apart from the above environmental concerns, food security is one of the most pressing challenges faced by South Asia. It is of supreme importance in view of the ever-growing population and poverty in the region. Despite the economic growth in South Asia, the prevalence of undernourishment is still high. Changes in food consumption patterns, climate change and food price hike are the current pressures culminating into food insecurity in the region. In fact, water security is also emerging as an increasingly alarming issue for the region. Many South Asian countries are experiencing severe water scarcity, stemming from the cumulative impact of increase in agriculture, industrialization, urbanization and population. Apart from these, there are other issues like pollution, politicization of water resources, changes in the rainfall pattern, receding glaciers and other bio-physical vulnerabilities. With the escalating population and developing economy, the demand for energy has increased enormously in South Asia. With the advancement in technology, the production of primary energy has amplified in the region. Despite this the energy supply is far below the demand of the South Asian consumers. Hence, the dependence on fossil fuels and biomass for energy production is certainly a matter of concern.

South Asia is also in the midst of transformation from a predominantly rural to urban society. Its expanding urban areas face a complex set of challenges in the form of solid waste generation and dwindling air quality. The growing urbanization has led to unchecked construction of houses, without integrating environmental aspects related to site selection, construction materials etc.

In order to address the above mentioned challenges in the region, it is imperative to design proper planning to ward off these pressures. This calls for appropriate policy interventions like family planning programmes, sustainable production and consumption, and the concept of GNP (Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than GDP. However, effective implementation of these innovative policies and programmes is vital to witness the pragmatic results to attain the lofty goal of sustainable development in South Asia.

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RAJIV GUPTA