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Asia faces growing drought, flooding, food security risks
Publication Date : 01-04-2014
Ice caps are melting, water supplies are under stress, heatwaves and heavy rain are intensifying - and the worst is yet to come, said a sombering report issued yesterday by a United Nations group that provides periodic updates on climate science.
Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world's oceans, where coral reefs are dying, and slowly acidifying waters are killing off plant and animal life.
This will worsen unless greenhouse gases are curbed, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
Prepared by hundreds of the world's top climate scientists, the report - the second in a four-part series - laid out the impact and risks of climate change worldwide and how these could be reduced.
Food security was at risk too, said the panel, with maize and wheat crop yields reduced worldwide. Meanwhile, heat-related deaths had also increased in some regions, it added.
For Asia, climate change could mean higher risks of coastal and urban flooding, more deaths due to warmer temperatures, and drought-related water and food shortages, the panel warned.
While it did not comment on Singapore specifically, it said Asia's key climate threats are "extreme precipitation and temperatures", sea-level rises, and even cyclones.
The IPCC noted a "medium" risk of flooding, heat-related deaths and water and food shortages increasing in Asia between now and 2040. But it said the risks and impact could be reduced via measures such as early warning systems, practices to avoid heat stress for outdoor workers and diversifying water sources.
In Singapore, a national climate change study had estimated that the mean sea level around the country could rise by up to 0.65m, and temperatures could increase by up to 4.2 deg C by 2100.
Dr Chris Gordon, director of the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, said a 3 deg C rise in temperature would affect heat stress and ecosystems here.
Higher temperatures and reduced rainfall make fires - and haze - more likely. Dengue cases may also increase, as warmer temperatures shorten the virus' incubation period in mosquitoes.
"Climate models... show a very consistent signal of increasing heavy rainfall events in our region over the coming century," he said. He added that there may also be more, and more intense, dry spells, "but the modelling evidence (for this) is less conclusive".
"Sea-level rise... combined with storm surge events, will increase the likelihood of coastal flooding," he said. This risk is compounded by the fact that most of Singapore lies within 15m above sea level, and about a third is less than 5m above the water, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat.
To address this, in 2011, the government raised the minimum reclamation level of new projects to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level.
Singapore is also vulnerable to crop failures around the world as it imports more than 90 per cent of its food, said experts.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said boosting local production and diversifying the country's food sources are its two core strategies to ensure food security.
It also encouraged Singaporeans to accept alternative food products such as frozen meat, liquid eggs and egg powder. "This will help mitigate the effects of supply disruptions and price increases," said a spokesman.