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Sharp spike in natural disasters impacting agriculture, data shows

Globally, disasters rose from 59 in the first decade of the last century to 4,479 in this century.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2017 08:38 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Agriculture,Assam floods,Natural disasters
Villagers use a boat to cross a flooded road at Asigarh village in Morigaon district in the northeastern state of Assam.(Reuters File Photo)

The spate of floods in Assam, West Bengal, Gujarat among other parts of the country this monsoon season is part of a global phenomenon that shows a marked increase in frequency and extent of natural disasters in the last six decades or so, data has revealed.

EM-DAT (The International Disaster database) has found that the number of disasters in India went up from three in the decade of 1900-1909, to as many as 186 a century later. And this decade, in the last seven years (2010-16), India has already seen 107 disasters.

Globally, disasters rose from 59 in the first decade of the last century to 4,479 in this century.

Farmers in particular have become more vulnerable than ever due to climate change and the ensuing spurt in disasters, experts say. On Sunday, in his Mann Ki Baat radio address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged as much. “Climate change, altered weather cycles, and transformations in the environment, are also having a big negative impact,” Modi said, before he went on to elaborate on flood relief efforts.

“Life goes completely topsy-turvy as a result of floods. Crops, livestock, infrastructure, roads, electricity, communication links – everything gets affected. In particular, our farmer brethren have to bear a lot of losses because of the damage to their crops and fields,” Modi said in his address.

EM-DAT estimates show that India has suffered losses amounting to $6.3 billion dollars in the 293 natural disasters that have occurred between the years 2000 and 2016, while over a billion people have been affected.

The spurt began in the 1950s, coinciding with the decades that show a sharp increase in population in the country. From 1900 to 1949, the number of disasters in India increased from three in the first decade (1900-1909) to nine in 1940-49. Census figures show that India’s population rose from 238 million in 1901 to 361.1 million in 1951. But thereafter the population grew from 439.3 million in 1961 to 1.2 billion in 2011.

Experts say increase in demographic pressure and human activity haves a direct impact on climate change. On the other hand, the resultant changes will impact humans severely.

“The negative impact of climate change on agriculture is well established. The Indian farmer is more vulnerable because climate change impacts disproportionately. The poor are hit harder,” said Vijeta Rattani of the Centre for Science and Environment .

The World Bank said in a report last year that by 2050, India will need to import twice the amount of food grain it does now, due to climate change.

The UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that of the total damage caused due to such extremities, the damage to agriculture in developing countries is 22%.

Though separate numbers are not available for India, experts expect this to be much higher because of the number of households involved in agriculture -- about 47% of the population.