Rain, floods killed 6,800 people in India in last 3 yrs; Bengal tops list
India has lost 6,811 people in the last three years to hydro-meteorological disasters such as heavy rain, lightning, flood and cyclones till March this year, according to government information to Parliament.
West Bengal topped the list of states with at least 964 such deaths, revealing the state’s vulnerability to climate change. This means one in every seven such deaths were reported from the state between April 2018 and March 21, according to data placed in the Lok Sabha in August this year.
Madhya Pradesh came a close second with 917 deaths and Kerala was placed third with 708 deaths during the same period. Madhya Pradesh alone recorded 674 deaths in 2019-20, mostly due to floods. Data of some states like Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Bihar were missing for some years.
Hydro-meteorological disasters include heavy rains, lightning strikes, cyclones, floods, droughts, avalanche, heat wave and cold wave.
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“Intensity and frequency of extreme weather phenomenon, such as heavy rain, lightning, thunderstorms, heat waves and cyclones have increased in the last two decades triggered by climate change. Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment says that for every 1°C rise in temperature, the water holding capacity of the atmosphere will increase by 7%. So the quantum of high intensity precipitation in each of the events is going up and we are seeing the consequences,” said KJ Ramesh, former director of India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Data available with the Union ministry of earth sciences also show that while in 2016, at least four cyclones had hit the Indian coast, out of which only one was a severe cyclone, in 2020 the country was battered by five severe cyclones.
Likewise, events of very heavy rainfall and extremely heavy rainfall have also been increasing, ministry data have shown. While in 2016, around 1,864 IMD stations across India recorded very heavy rain and 226 stations recorded extremely heavy rain, in 2020, 1,912 stations registered very heavy rain and extremely heavy rain was recorded in 341 stations.
The data, however, do not include deaths reported this year during the monsoon season. Data released by the Union government showed that this year between June 1 and September 1, at least 680 people have died in rain related accidents. Around 75 such deaths were reported from West Bengal alone till September 1. In May 2021, cyclone Yaas killed 14 people in West Bengal and Odisha.
In 2020, cyclone Amphan killed 98 people in West Bengal, while cyclone Tauktae, which hit the western coast this year, killed 118 people. West Bengal has been hit by three back-to-back very severe cyclones in November 2019 (Bulbul), May 2020 (Amphan) and May 2021 (Yaas), which together killed around 153 people.
The ‘Assessment of climate change over the Indian region’ – a report published by the Union earth sciences ministry in 2020 – suggests that the frequency of daily precipitation extremes with rainfall intensities exceeding 150 mm per day increased by about 75% during 1950-2015 in central India. The report also suggests that the country’s average temperature has shot up by 0.7% between 1901 and 2018.
“Our analysis of IMD data of a century says that the number of depressions intensifying into cyclones has dropped in the Bay of Bengal. But when a cyclone develops its intensity is very high. Similarly, the overall rainfall in the monsoon season has increased but the number of rainy days has dropped, resulting in intense spells. The latest IPCC report has already pointed out that Kolkata recorded the highest rise in surface air temperature within the studied cities and regions across the world in 1950-2018. Except for desert, West Bengal has everything -- from mountains to sea and river floodplains -- and so it is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What aggravates the situation is that while on one hand, alteration of nature is going on in an unbridled way, we lack mitigation and preparedness,” said Tuhin Ghosh, director of School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.