Economic Challenges of Climate Change Adaptation in South Asia

By: Kalpana Ambepitiya, Sri Lanka

South Asia has been facing many social and economic problems in past few decades and also at present. There are eight countries in the South Asian region including Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Afghanistan, all of whom base their economies on agricultural production. All of these countries aim to reach their developmental goal through minimising economic barriers. An appropriately planned economy is the key to a nation's development, political orientation also plays a significant role in a country's progress towards development goals.

Both developing and developed countries need to adapt to climate change in economic planning. Climate planning is especially critical to a developing country due to their lack of economic resources for adaptation. Progress is often hindered by increases in extreme weather conditions and Himalayan melting that further depletes assets, draws resources from development, and causes an increase in communicable diseases and mortaity. The overall socio-economic results include reduced productivity and investments of agriculture, urban migration and precipitation changes in economic, business and decision making.

Development helps adaptation

Studies have argued that economic development is the best route to climate change adaptation. Development enables countries through their economic activities to diversify and become less dependent on agriculture and less vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Development also reduces the vulnerability of countries as it makes more resources available for disaster mitigation. For example, increasing of investment in science and research helps to invent new vaccines for epidemic diseases like Dengue.

Adaptation is also necessary for development. The development progress will be faster if the economy responses to adaptation measures like changing crop and cropping patterns, as well as merging indigenous knowledge with new inventions need to be considered. Therefore, a climate adaptation based development is required to implement.

Adaptation cost

This is the cost incurred by societies to adapt to changes in climate and includes the cost of planning, preparing, facilitating and implementing adaptation measures. For developing countries in South Asia, it is required to decide the initiated development cost that enhances the climate adaptability which should be incurred as adaptation cost or not. And also it is important to identify what development cost would increase the vulnerability to the climate change and why its value.

Economic Challenges


Changes in harvest and planted areas are the main effects of climate change in South Asia. Countries tend to respond to these by changing cultivation practices that result in decreasing the productivity and increase the prices in the consumer market. Then the consumers change their buying patterns and look for cheap and low quality products. One thing needs more attention that some multinational organizations take advantages of this kind of situations and try to promote low-nourishing products and use these markets for dumping. These actions result in increasing malnutrition in nations. Therefore, South Asian economies require productivity-enhancing investments as adaptation measures to climate change.  This remains a challenge due to insufficient resources, poor governance and limited financial capabilities in these countries.


Regional requirements of infrastructure include electricity, water, communication, sanitation, health and education facilities and general public buildings. In all constructions should be followed building standards to enable assets to withstand predicted changes in climate. These constructions should be withstood for 50 years from the date of construction. Existing assets require modifications in accordance with climate change adaptation such as the replacement of cooling and heating equipment, generating high adaptation cost to those economies.  Climate change is however likely affecting the demand for infrastructure facilities, such as the demand for higher dykes of roads will be increased in the coastal area to cope with sea level rises and storm surges.

Coastal Zone

Island countries in the region are particularly at risk of sea level rise induced by climate change. Island countries such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka are vulnerable because of their size, limited resources and geographic location. Reconstructing or repairing residual damages, port upgrades, increasing dykes of seaside roads require high financial and technical support. The best engineering practice of the globe for sea and river dikes require additional height needed 50 years into the future and developing countries are required to stick to this.

Water Supply

South Asia has had a balanced water supply (Ground and rainfall) over the past few decades. The region was known for self-sufficiency and tended to export excessively. Now with the impact of climate change the water supply has changed in various ways. Some agriculture based economies receive heavy rain falls and results in the destruction of harvests. Some areas face years of severe drought and the entire harvest becomes degraded. Additional reservoir storage capacity building, appropriate water management and distribution of industrial and agricultural requirements, make access to pure water to the public increasingly challenging for South Asian economies.

Human Health

The human health in South Asia is critically affected by climate change. The region accounts for a larger population with a considerable proportion of poor population. The deaths recorded and affected population is increasing day-by-day not only due to epidemic diseases such as malaria and dengue but also caused by cold and heat conditions, flooding and malnutrition. Structural adaptation is required especially for hospital and medical services. Investments must be increased in the fields of Science, research and logistics.


The science of climate shows the impacts of climate change will increase over time and will have a major effect on South Asia. South Asian economies should focus further on the matters arising from climate change that would inhibit their development since greater investments are need to adapt to climate change. Investments include re-valuing and integrating indigenous and modern methods, particularly in the agriculture industry. Similarly South Asian governments must pay attention to protecting people and their properties from upcoming natural disasters and the effects of climate change. South Asia contributes marginally to climate change, but impacts to the region are heavy. Who are more responsible to this must think of the justice to the people living in this region, their properties, their environment, their development needs and their right to live freely.