As the contradictions of Asia’s water challenges have been laid bare this summer—with millions affected by flooding while others are hit by droughts—one thing has been made clearer: the coming water crisis could exacerbate already simmering domestic and regional tensions.
Heavy monsoon rains have produced the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history, with more than three weeks of flooding leaving at least 1,500 dead and more than 4 million homeless. Millions of Pakistanis already require humanitarian assistance, yet the likelihood that many more could be added to this list has grown with the announcement that 200,000 have been evacuated as flood waters continue to rise in Singh Province in the country’s south.
Meanwhile, flash floods and mudslides have submerged some villages in China’s Gansu Province, killing hundreds and leaving more than a thousand missing. Today, Chinese state media announced 250,000 had been evacuated in the north of the country after the Yalu River burst its banks.
But while attention has been focused on disasters in Pakistan in China, South-east Asia has been hit by its own torrential downpours. Last month, Singapore suffered three major floods—an unprecedented number for the prosperous city state—with even the shopping and financial districts hit in the first serious flooding disaster in the city since 1978.
Vietnam has also been affected, with many parts of Hanoi under water last month after a major storm struck the country. What added insult to injury in Vietnam’s case is that the flooding came after a nine-month dry spell that disrupted the country’s power supply (about a third of Vietnam’s power source comes from hydroelectric power plants whose operations have been adversely affected by falling water levels in the Mekong River).
And Vietnam hasn’t been the only country in the region to face the twin curse of droughts and flooding. The Philippines (recently ranked by the Belgium-based Center for Research and Epidemiology Disasters as the most disaster-prone area in the world) was last year hit by 14 meteorological and 9 hydrological disasters, the most devastating of which was last September’s typhoon, which unleashed the worst flooding in Metro Manila in 40 years.
This year, although floods have been a regular occurrence in Manila since the start of the wet season, the June-July rainfall was insufficient to increase water levels at the Angat Dam—the principal source of fresh water in the country’s capital. The result has been both tragic and somehow comic: Residential homes are flooded, but there’s no water in the faucets.
To top all this, Thailand is also this year experiencing a longer than usual dry season and was forced to postpone the rice planting season for a month, which will have knock-on effects around the region as Thailand, like Vietnam, is among the world’s top rice exporters.