July 02, 2020
BBC Media Action has launched the findings of Asia’s largest study of people’s experience of climate change. The study provides the first comprehensive picture of how people are being impacted by climate change and maps where communities are struggling to adapt.
The 35,500 people interviewed in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam were not climate scientists or policymakers. They were the farmers, fishermen, housewives, and slum dwellers who live at the frontline of changes in the environment across the region.
Across the region, almost all respondents have identified significant changes to their environment and basic resources – from increased temperatures and extreme weather events to decreases in water and food.
Though many people lacked an understanding of the science of global climate change, they recounted examples of how they experienced change in their day-to-day lives. In China, goats were said to be grazing higher up Sichuan mountains. Vietnamese people said they were no longer wearing jumpers during winter. People in Manshera, Pakistan lamented the lack of snow.
However, as one Bangladeshi government official put it: “People may not know what climate change is, but they are feeling its impact.”
Feeling the heat
The study shows people are clearly feeling the effects of climate change. Seventy-six per cent of people across these countries thought temperatures had risen in the last 10 years, 52% said rainfall had been unpredictable during this period and 40% of people said the severity of extreme weather events had increased. As one labourer in Northern Vietnam described: “Working outdoors, sometimes it would get up to 40–41 degrees [Celsius]. It was never like that before. It’s much hotter and makes [my] work harder.”
On top of this 35% of people across the region felt their access to water had decreased over the last ten years. In India this figure rose to 52%. The majority had seen food prices rise a lot, while agricultural productivity was seen as a particular problem across South Asia: 59% felt it had decreased in Nepal, 50% in Bangladesh and 45% in India.
Worried about food and water
The study revealed how changes in climate and the availability of resources were combining to negatively impact some people’s lives. A farmer in India noted: “Our crops are damaged either because of untimely excessive rains or by lack of water.” Reduced access to water was increasing expenditure and reducing income for many, particularly in rural areas.
In other areas increased rainfall was having a similar affect. In one area of rural Sichuan in south-west China, 99% of people felt rainfall had increased while 93% of people felt agricultural productivity had decreased . This was negatively impacting their ability to earn money and some were changing jobs and moving away from farming. Many people linked changes in temperature and rainfall to concerns about health, including a perceived increase in diseases like malaria. Health was also a real concern in larger urban areas, residents of cities like Guangzhou and Ho Chi Minh city said they thought increasing pollution from factories was to blame for an increase in respiratory diseases.
Willing or unable?
People are taking action to respond to the changes they notice. Those who felt informed and were involved in communities that acted together were more likely to be adapting. These people were taking a wide range of actions from finding new water sources to diversifying crops. A Nepalese farmer who had already experimented with crop diversification, knew what other changes she needed to make: “The main thing that we need is irrigation. If there were proper irrigation, then we could do something. We do not have alternative irrigation but there is the possibility for lift irrigation and we could do that by collecting money from everyone.”
Other people felt more helpless. People Madhya Pradesh in India were struggling with drought and could not get access to clean water. They had very low confidence in the government but did not feel able to act on their own. In one community in this state, people from a lower caste were not allowed to use the local water pumps.
The information gap
There were considerable differences between countries in awareness and understanding of climate change – 86% of people across the three regions of China surveyed (Beijing, Guangdong and Sichuan) had heard of climate change, compared to just 39% in Pakistan. After having the concept explained to them 65% of people in Asia felt climate change was happening, 22% did not and 14% did not know.