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Climate Change Posing Grave Threat to South Asia Food Supplies

Melting Himalayan glaciers, rising sea levels and depleting fresh water sources as a result of global climate change are posing grave threats to food production and economic development in the populous South Asia region, experts said Monday.

Dozens of scientists and policy makers from 18 countries and international agencies gathered Monday at the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the start of a six-day conference to discuss ways to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change on food security in South Asia.

South Asia is home to a fifth of the world's population, and 40 percent of its poor.

The region — which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — is prone to incessant monsoon rains, drought, heat waves, frost freezes, desertification and salinization, all of which experts attribute to climate change.

Despite increased crop yields over the past decades, about 312 million people, or nearly 21 percent of the region's 1.5 billion people — including half of its children — still do not get enough to eat, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

"The adverse effects of climate change are a major barrier to food security and achievement of sustainable development goals in South Asia," said Ad Spijkers, FAO's representative in Dhaka.

Bangladesh, a densely populated nation of 145 million, is most vulnerable to natural hazards like cyclones, floods and salinization of coastal areas.

"Bangladesh may lose as much as one-third of its land mass due to sea level rise," said Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed, who is also a soil scientist.

S.M.A. Faiz, Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, urged greater cooperation among countries in the region to tackle the challenges of climate change.

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of World Meteorological Organization, called for the establishment of a South Asian climate change information network.