- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

FROM COMBINED DISPATCHES
The intense cold spell that has enveloped South Asia for more than three weeks killed at least 62 more persons overnight, officials in New Delhi told Reuters news agency yesterday as the toll in the region's most severe winter in decades rose to perhaps more than 1,500.
While bright sunshine greeted Bangladesh yesterday and brought some respite from the cold which has claimed 533 lives there so far the India Meteorological Department said northern India would not be as fortunate for a few more days.
The IMD said minimum temperatures were between 7 and 13 degrees F. below normal across the region, and the cold was exacerbated by chilly winds.
Forty-seven new deaths were reported from the populous northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the worst-hit region this season with a total death toll of nearly 600.
Although temperatures in South Asia do not fall as low as those in North America and Europe, people have been hit harder because millions in the region live on pavement or in shacks.
Most of the dead have been pavement dwellers and beggars exposed to below-freezing temperatures in northern India, a rare occurrence in the Gangetic plains.
Indian authorities have arranged for public bonfires by the sides of pavements and shifted some of the homeless to temporary shelters, but many among the poor said the effort was not enough.
"We collect waste wood, old tires and anything else that can burn for some time for our bonfire to keep us warm at least for a while," said Chotey Lal, a homeless construction worker in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, who earns about $1 a day.
There were no new deaths in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, where 55 persons have died so far.
The cold spell has also hit Pakistan's populous Punjab province, but no deaths have been reported there, Reuters said.
The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva said on Friday that El Nino, the weather pattern blamed for bringing extreme conditions to many areas around the Pacific Ocean in recent months, will probably last until at least May.
The WMO said continuation of the weather phenomenon beyond that period "would be highly unusual, based on historical records," but cautioned that it is not yet able to make an accurate forecast.
El Nino is marked by periodic shifts in sea temperatures in the main Pacific currents, and can impact climate patterns around the world.
WMO said that the far western Pacific Ocean and eastern areas of the Indian Ocean could be disrupted in coming months by an unusual warm current that developed in November. Meteorologists normally associate a cold current in that region with El Nino.
Although it is rated as moderate compared with the record 1997-1998 event, the current El Nino has caused unusually dry conditions across Indonesia and Australia, and heavy rainstorms in the United States, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, according to WMO.
In recent weeks, meteorologists have blamed El Nino for the unusually harsh winter in India and Bangladesh, and say it is likely to intensify a drought expected in Vietnam's impoverished central highlands over the next few months.
In Australia, where it is summer now, a study published last week by the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature and two meteorologists said that global warming and the pollution believed to lie behind it are key reasons for the severity of Australia's drought an ominous sign for the future of that food-producing nation.
The report said record daytime temperatures last year led to unprecedented rates of water evaporation.
It said the current El Nino, produced by a periodic warming of Pacific waters, could be blamed to some extent for the heat and dryness, but that natural climate variations alone fail to account for all the temperature anomalies of 2002.
"Most of this warming is likely due to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activity such as burning fossil fuels for electricity and transport, and from land clearing," said a co-author of the WWF study, former Monash University meteorology professor David Karoly.
"This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly seen," he said in a statement issued with the report.
The drought, which began last March and is continuing, has savaged Australia's winter wheat crop and cut its sheep flocks to numbers not seen since the 1920s.
The WWF report could be embarrassing for Prime Minister John Howard, whose government has thrown money at farmers to help a bastion of its support survive the "Big Dry," but which joined the United States in rejecting the Kyoto accord to cut pollution.
The 1997 treaty is considered insufficient to halt climate change, but is the world's first attempt to tackle greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
The WWF report was endorsed by experts at Australia's government-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), who said it highlights concerns about the sustainability of Australia's massive farming industry.
Kevin Hennessy, a senior research scientist in CSIRO's atmospheric research department, said the agency predicts that the Murray-Darling Basin would get between 0.9 degree Fahrenheit and 3.6 degrees F. warmer by 2030, and 10 percent drier.
"The challenge is, are we growing the right crops in the right areas, and if we want to continue growing those crops under dry conditions, we need to choose or breed crops that are more drought-tolerant, more heat-tolerant," Mr. Hennessy told Reuters.


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