Dire challenges lie not far ahead for Southeast Asia — some are already here

Samantha Suppiah
9 min readFeb 29, 2020
Tamaoyan Village, Legazpi City, Albay, Philippines (February 2020)

Southeast Asia is utterly unique, utterly beautiful, and utterly precious. It is also one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet. Climate change is an existential threat to all of Southeast Asia, on top of our politics and economics. Our heavily populated coastlines and large agricultural sectors face immense pressures in the coming years. We are losing our diverse ways of living.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development has predicted that agriculture and natural resource management in Southeast Asia will be seriously affected by the adverse impacts of climate change. Climate extremes such as floods, droughts and cyclones will impact irrigation systems, crop yields, soil health, biodiverse ecosystems, and water resources.

For the large number of Southeast Asians struggling economically today, these pressures turn quickly into full-blown existential crises. Food systems collapse directly affects all 655 million people in the region. Extreme weather events and rising sea levels will affect all of us to varying degrees. Our exposure to extremes is exacerbated by the equatorial Pacific Ocean’s climate cycle, El Niño and La Niña. Soon, many of us will be forced to relocate or migrate. For some, it’s as simple as using the air-conditioning more often. For many others, it’s life and death.

We take a look at three major threats climate change imposes on Southeast Asians: food security, heat stress and forced migration.

Rice fields, Albay, Philippines (February 2020)

Food Security

Cropping systems, livestock and fisheries will be at greater risk of pests and diseases as a result of future climate change. In 2017, the agriculture sector accounted for an estimated 32% of total employment (that’s over 138 million Southeast Asians) and contributed to 12% of GDP (FAOSTAT, World Bank, ILO). Rice yields are predicted to decline by up to 50% on average by 2100, compared to 1990. Vietnam and Thailand are expected to be most affected by this decline. Rising sea levels could result in the loss of a further 12% of…

Samantha Suppiah

Southeast Asian trickster. Design strategist for decolonial sustainability & regeneration. www.possiblefutures.earth/samantha

Recommended from Medium


See more recommendations