“The region accounted for 91% of the world’s deaths due to natural disasters in the last century," said the report Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Asia Pacific continues to be the world’s most disaster-prone region. Approximately 41% of all natural disasters reported over the last two decades occurred in the region. The number of record-breaking rainfall events increased in the region by 56% over the 1981-2010 period," the report said.
It warned that by 2070, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangkok, Dhaka, Guangzhou, and Shanghai will be the top Asian cities in terms of population exposure to coastal flooding, threatening hundreds of millions with displacement.
The report stressed that the rate of environmental damage is increasing across the planet but there is still time to reverse its worst effects if governments act now.
The UNEP assessment has six separate reports giving details of environmental issues affecting each of the world’s six regions—the pan-European region, North America, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa. Its preparation involved 1,203 scientists, hundreds of scientific institutions and more than 160 governments.
The report, released ahead of the United Nations Environment Assembly on Thursday, finds that in almost every region, population growth, rapid urbanization, rising levels of consumption, desertification, land degradation and climate change have combined to leave countries suffering from severe water scarcity.
“These worrying trends are also making it increasingly hard for the world to feed itself," warned the report.
For ‘Asia and the Pacific’ region, the report said, “unprecedented economic growth, which has lifted millions out of poverty is putting heavy pressure on ecosystems".
“Increasing unsustainable consumption patterns have led to worsening air pollution, water scarcity and waste generation, threatening human and environmental health. Increased demand for fossil fuels and natural resources—extensive agriculture, palm oil and rubber plantations, aquaculture and the illegal trade in wildlife – are causing environmental degradation and biodiversity loss," it warned.
Deforestation, water contamination, growing consumption and waste were highlighted as the main issues threatening in the Asia-Pacific region.
The report said in Southeast Asia, the average area deforested annually is more than one million hectares, resulting in the release of hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year (between 2005 and 2015).
Highlighting that contamination of water sources by human and industrial waste, including pharmaceutical and personal care products is a major problem, the report said that as per estimates, about 30% of population uses drinking water contaminated by human faeces.
Uncontrolled dumping, which is still the main waste disposal method in the region, is also a major source of disease, the report added.
“Today, thanks to this report, we now know more about the state of the world’s environment than ever before. With these assessments, UNEP has presented the world with the very latest evidence on the state of the world’s environment, providing them with the tools they need anticipate and avoid the damage that is being done to our planet," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner in an official statement.
“If current trends continue and the world fails to enact solutions that improve current patterns of production and consumption, if we fail to use natural resources sustainably, then the state of the world’s environment will continue to decline. It is essential that we understand the pace of environmental change that is upon us and that we start to work with nature instead of against it to tackle the array of environmental threats that face us," he added.
The report stressed that there is still time to tackle many of the worst impacts of environmental change, such as the damage to marine ecosystems and the rising level of air pollution, which has become one of the world’s most widespread environmental health risks.
It recommended encouraging “sustainable consumption and production" to reduce environmental pressures, implementation of measures to reduce pollution, investment in environmentally sound infrastructure and clean transport, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, diversification of energy sources and building resilience to natural hazards and extreme climate events.