AHMEDABAD, India — Khorsheeda Khatun had been left with nothing — then that too was washed away.
The 28-year-old fled her home country of Myanmar in January with her two daughters, escaping the latest outbreak of violence, and was living in the Kutupalang Makeshift Settlement in Bangladesh when cyclone Mora arrived five months later and displaced up to 500,000 people.
“My house was shattered. It broke the wooden planks supporting my hut and blew away the polythene rooftop. The wind and water destroyed whatever little possessions we had,” she told UNICEF workers in June.
Several weeks later, across the Himalayas in south China, more than 12 million people were forced to flee their homes as flood waters rose for yet another year.
In China’s southeastern Jiangxi province alone, flooding this year has so far caused $430 million in damages and economic losses.
In neighboring Hunan province, 53,000 homes have been destroyed — and the flooding has yet to fully recede.
Increasingly severe weather, triggered by climate change, is putting hundreds of millions of people at risk across the rapidly developing countries of southern Asia.
“In the next 30 years, it is projected that heavy rainfall events will be increasing … in Asia, by about 20 percent for sure,” climate scientist Dewi Kirono at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation said.
Southern Asia is already the wettest area on the continent and one of the wettest regions in the world, receiving an average of at least 39 inches of rainfall a year.
As the rains fall harder, more than 137 million people in India, Bangladesh and China will be put at risk of coastal or inland flooding, more people than in the rest of the Asia-Pacific combined, a study in 2012 found.
Aggravating flooding through poor drainage and short-sighted planning is the sprawling, rapid urban growth across South Asia, built to accommodate the millions of rural residents moving to cities.
“You still have to have proper draining. It was a green field and now it’s an urban area. Quite often, if you don’t do that, (because) you’ve concreted everything the flood run-off is so much higher and the deaths are much worse,” Oxford University visiting fellow and WWF advisor Paul Sayers said.
The majority of flood-related deaths and injuries worldwide since 1950 have been in three countries: China, India and Bangladesh.
According to statistics from Belgium’s Universite Catholique de Louvain’s Emergency Events Database, since 1950, more than 2.2 million people in these countries have been killed by flooding.
That includes the estimated 2 million people who died during the disastrous 1959 floods in China.
The world’s leading authority of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote in its latest report the Asia region was already suffering “huge economic losses” from weather and climate disasters, with one quarter of the entire world’s economic losses from disasters in Asia alone.
As flood swept through central China in July, leaving devastation in its wake and almost 90 people dead or missing, locals took to Weibo to express their horror.
“The road is blocked, the electricity is downed, water is polluted, no phone signal is detected, elderly (people) and children are waiting for food,” said one user living in Shilong Village in Hunan province.
Photos accompanying the post showed cracked walls, piles of trash and mud everywhere.
“The major district has turned to a dead city,” another user said.
Almost every year in the past decade, more than 1,000 people have died in China, India and Bangladesh from flooding, according to the Database, and millions of dollars in damage has been done.