In the past few years, climate change has gone from a threat of the future to a disaster unfolding right in front of our eyes. Its effects are now being felt around the world, from shifting patterns of food production to natural disasters that are now more frequent and intense than any other time in recorded history. While there’s no doubt that it’s a global phenomenon that transcends national borders, some countries are right on the front line of this rapidly-developing crisis.
10. South Sudan
South Sudan is located in northeastern Africa, bordered by nations like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and others. The country has proven particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the past few years, made worse by a recently-concluded civil war that continues to break out in armed skirmishes in many parts of the country.
Currently, South Sudan is at a high risk of flooding and drought, with over 2 million people already displaced by climate-related factors. Water remains a scarce commodity throughout the country, with only 55% of the population having access to safe drinking water. Rainfall has also decreased in the region by 10-20% since the mid-1970s, which is a huge problem for many rural families that rely on rain for farming and animals. According to some estimates, about 95% of South Sudan depends on nature for survival.
The Republic of Madagascar is one of the largest island nations in the world, lying about 250 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa. It’s also one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, thanks to the high frequency of disasters like floods, tropical storms, cyclones, and droughts. The country’s annual cyclone season, from November to March, usually comes with intense cyclones and storms, causing heavy rains, flooding, and rising sea levels in the past few years.
Additionally, Madagascar is also facing its most severe drought in the last four decades, particularly in the southern part of the country. The disaster has so far affected over a million and a half people across the region, largely due to its heavy reliance on subsistence agriculture and rain-fed crops. The rising price of water and extreme food scarcity, combined with the country’s economically-impoverished status, have intensified the consequences of these climate-related problems. Over the years, natural disasters like droughts, cyclones, floods, and extreme temperatures have caused a total damage of over $1 billion.
Despite its minimal contribution to global emissions, Afghanistan stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to conflict and climate-related factors. Currently, the entire region is facing intensifying, extreme weather events like droughts, storms, floods, landslides, avalanches, and earthquakes.
According to some reports, 80% of Afghans rely on agriculture for survival, making even slight climate shifts highly impactful on food production and availability, a problem that’s only made worse by outdated agricultural techniques and violence due to conflicts. Droughts are on the rise in almost all parts of the country, with about 64% of households and 50% of the population affected in 2022. There’s also acute water scarcity driven by rising temperatures and lower glacial melting rates, as sources of water like rivers and lakes dry up at a faster rate every year.
Haiti is a small island nation in the Caribbean region. Its location has made it more prone to disasters like floods, droughts, and hurricanes than other countries in the area, resulting in it being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change around the world.
One problem specific to Haiti is its lack of trees, leading to soil erosion during heavy rains causing floods and landslides. The socioeconomic conditions within the country are further fueling the ongoing crisis, as a large part of the population relies on subsistence agriculture and depends on changing weather patterns to grow their food. Access to clean water is also growing scarcer by the year, adversely affecting public health and making all the above challenges even worse.
6. The Philippines
The Philippines is a western-Pacific island nation made up of more than 7,000 islands. Its unique topography makes it an ideal destination for tourists and explorers from around the world, though it also makes it particularly-prone to the oncoming effects of climate change. Every year, the country is hit by an average of 20 typhoons, and their frequency has only increased in the past few years. Five of the deadliest typhoons in the history of the Philippines have happened since 2006, each one more intense and damaging than the last.
Perhaps the most destructive of them was super typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, that claimed the lives of about 6,300 people. Rising sea levels further threaten the growing climate situation across the country; according to a report by Climate Central, southeast Asia is home to about 70% of 150 million people living in regions expected to submerge around the world by 2050.
5. Democratic Republic Of The Congo
Earlier known as Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo is easily one of the largest countries in Africa. According to reports from the last few years, the DRC has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, particularly for its young population. According to assessment reports by UNICEF, Congolese children are the ninth-most-vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks worldwide.
By 2050, temperatures across the DRC could surge by 1–2.5 Celsius, accompanied by intensified heavy rainfall and prolonged droughts. In contrast, the southern region may experience decreased dry season rainfall. One can also expect a rise in sea levels in the coastal areas by 60-70 centimeters by 2080, adding to the overall risk of coastal erosion and water scarcity throughout the country.
About 95% of the population in the DRC relies on farming crops like cassava and maize, both of which are severely threatened by climate-driven crop diseases. Additionally, the hydropower sector faces disruption due to reduced precipitation patterns, further threatening the energy and food security of the Congolese population.
As per the Global Climate Risk Index of 2021, the south-Asian country of Pakistan is the eighth-most-vulnerable nation to climate change in the long term. Over the last two decades, Pakistan has also been consistently ranked among the top 10 countries most susceptible to climate risks, thanks to thousands of climate-related fatalities and financial losses exceeding $4 billion due to climate-related factors. Furthermore, these effects compound the risk of conflict across the region, particularly over dwindling resources like water and food.
The recent heatwave has amplified Pakistan’s food insecurity crisis, with scorching temperatures damaging crop production and rendering arable land unusable for small farmers. Pakistan has also been increasingly vulnerable to recurring extreme weather events, like the devastating floods of 2010 and 2022.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the largest and most-populous countries on the continent. It’s highly vulnerable to climate change due to its exposure to extreme weather events like droughts, floods, volcanoes, and earthquakes, made worse by poverty and the country’s dependence on sectors like agriculture, water, tourism, and forestry.
Among all the factors, drought is perhaps the most damaging, as droughts in Ethiopia have increased in magnitude, frequency, and impact since the 1970s. A major drought in 2011 left millions in need of food aid, which was later found to be linked to livestock deaths due to pasture and water shortages. Due to climate change and other human factors, areas affected by drought and desertification are expanding across the country, combined with increasing flash floods and seasonal river floods. Projections show a potential 20% rise in extreme high rainfall events by the end of the century.
Somalia is another African country facing some of the worst climate-based challenges around the world, with around 70% of its population dependent on agriculture and pastoralism. Increasingly severe floods and droughts in recent years also threaten farmers and pastoralists, combined with environmental degradation caused by industrial activities like charcoal production.
Moreover, Somalia is facing its most severe drought in close to four decades. The absence of national land use and disaster risk management policies at the state level have worsened the situation, with a high impact on local settlements. Women in rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change, largely due to their lack of decision-making powers and unequal access to resources within their communities. According to reports, Somalia ranks as the world’s second most climate-vulnerable country, despite its minimal greenhouse gas emissions contribution.
While many people know that Syria has been going through a brutal civil war for more than a decade now, not many are aware of its particularly-high vulnerability to climate change. The country has been hit hard by extreme weather events throughout this time, like its record-low rain season in 2021, leading to decreased water flow into rivers like the Euphrates.
These climate disasters have had a high impact on agricultural communities and pastoralists across the country, as they heavily rely on water and vegetation for livelihood. The effects are made worse by the ongoing civil conflict, with damaged infrastructure and displacement of people in vast parts of the country exacerbating the problem. Because of the situation, many Syrian families have been pushed deeper into poverty in the last few years, as even basic commodities like food, water, and shelter have become scarce across the region.