The 21st Conference of Parties (COP), Paris, has got the world talking and raising questions about climate changes. How can the world prevent global warming? How can each country do its bit to reverse its effect? Most importantly, how do we adapt to its already catastrophic ramifications? In India alone, we had to deal with devastating calamities, both natural and man-made.
We take a look at a few times India had to cope with climate change…
Recently, the western and northern states including Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh were severely hit by dust storms claiming lives of approximately 124 people. Scientists have linked climate change for such storms. Global warming or heat-trapping greenhouse gases, loads of moisture, abnormally high temperature has been considered as the main drivers of such storms.
As per experts, dust storms are usually not this intense as experienced currently. It is the high temperature which has aggravated the situation. For instance, temperatures touched an unusual high in Delhi (almost 7 degrees higher than usual). Further, the temperature in our western neighbour – Pakistan – reached a record-breaking high recently, as much as 122.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This western heat coupled with moist winds from the East has manifested the extreme weather in the northern India.
India’s east coast is frequently hit by cyclones, but because of climate change, each episode is becoming more intense than the last. The most devastating of these was the Cyclonic Storm of Hudhud in October 2014. Hudhud hit the Visakhapatnam coast, making it the first city in India to be directly hit by a cyclone since 1891. More than 20 lakh people were stranded and left homeless in a cyclone that ravaged the city.
A year later, the coastal city of Chennai experienced an equally devastating catastrophe, when it became subject to the heaviest rainfall in the area in a century. Unexpected floods caused the deaths of approximately 280 people and displaced thousands from their homes. According to scientists, this was due to an irregularly occurring, complex series of climatic changes that affects the equatorial Pacific region called the El Niño effect. Even though these two examples are not direct manifestations of climate change, the frequency, intensity and severity of damage in these cases are a cause of concern for many coastal areas in India.
Read more about Cyclone Ockhi here
In May 2018, the state of Tripura experienced flash floods as a result of overnight heavy rainfall. The Haora and Gomati rivers overflowed above the danger levels and 670 families from along the river banks had to be shifted to relief camps. Several areas of Gomati, Khowai, Sipahijala and West Tripura districts were submerged under water for over 2 days. Around 4 people died and over 13,000 were displaced.
Unseasonal and unpredictable rains have become another recurring phenomenon in India. In June 2013, Uttarakhand witnessed a multi-day cloudburst causing devastating floods and landslides. The disaster affected millions, with over 100,000 pilgrims and tourists stranded at Himalayan religious sites, and several thousand people killed.
Another similar catastrophic event took place the following year in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in September 2014, where heavy monsoon rain and flash floods across the state killed over 400 people and rendered thousands homeless. The increased unpredictability of Indian monsoons is a direct result of the global rise in temperatures and is likely to increase further if not controlled immediately. The increased unpredictability of Indian monsoons is a direct result of the global rise in temperatures and is likely to increase further if not controlled immediately.
In May 2015, India reached the highest recorded temperature since 1995, a disgusting 55°C. Over 2500 people died from heat-related causes in the deadliest heat-wave since 1979. Also attributed to the El Niño effect, the sudden end of pre-monsoon rains majorly contributed to the heat waves.
A few months later in November, temperatures dropped across the country. Jammu & Kashmir experienced a frigid -14.5°C winter, while the temperatures in Punjab and Haryana dropped to as low as 0.2°C. Mumbai faced one of its coldest days in history at 8.8°C. Low temperatures combined with unprecedented pollution levels caused the weather officials to panic, as a thick smog engulfed India’s capital city of New Delhi. Road, train and air traffic faced reduced visibility of a meager 100 meters.
While the El Nino effect submerged some cities with heavy rainfall, it created a situation of severe droughts elsewhere. In 2013, after receiving inadequate rainfall (less than 50% of the regional average), Maharashtra was forced to declare a drought.
This rapidly became the region’s worst drought in 40 years, with nearly 12000 villages suffering from a widespread failure of crops. In 2013, at least 3146 farmers killed themselves in the face of endless loss, making farmer suicides 47% higher than suicides among the rest of the population. India is an agro-economy and so climate change is possibly one of the most detrimental things to happen to our population and GDP.
The cotton crop in Punjab has been accustomed to havoc-causing pests called whiteflies for many years. Most farmers considered them to be secondary pests and controlled them by intensive spraying of chemical pesticides.
However, in 2015, the increased population of whitefly destroyed nearly 2/3rd of region’s cotton crop, forcing 15 farmers to commit suicide and pushing hundreds of others into debt. Scarce rain in Punjab and the subsequent humid weather in the state has had a dual effect on the local whitefly population: it has spurred an increase in their population and prolonged their survival. It is estimated that this tiny insect has caused damage worth Rs. 4500 crores.
All these incidents have served as a wake-up call to the country and it’s policy makers because the realities of climate change coupled with bad ecological policies, can cause havoc in our country, its economy and the citizens.