Climate and Us | Climate disasters: India needs an adaptation strategy — now
Ecologically sensitive areas like the Western Ghats, the Western Himalayas, and the Northeast urgently need focused planning. India cannot rely on developments globally to protect its people from impacts of the climate crisis.
India urgently needs a climate adaptation strategy. Every monsoon, devastating floods lead to largescale loss of lives and property in the Northeast, Western Himalayas, and the west coast.
Since June 1, Assam and Meghalaya have suffered floods which killed over 200 persons, over 70,000 cattle, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed crops. In June alone, 104 persons died, 64 persons were injured and 61 livestock perished due to lightning strikes in different parts of the country. During the same period, northwest and central India had patchy or no rain leading to a delay in sowing of kharif crop in some regions.
Monsoon picked pace in July and continues to be in an active phase till now. But during this period, there has been massive flooding in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and landslides in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. While the flash floods near Amarnath cave due to a suspected cloudburst above the cave has grabbed headlines, several disasters of marginally lower intensity are occurring everyday along the west coast and in the Himalayan states.
Monsoon will be in spate for at least one more week now as per India Meteorological Department's forecast. These disasters come on the back of deadly heat wave spells that began in March this year. Extreme heat impacted wheat yields and the mango crop apart from putting people through a public health crisis.
Put together, there seems to be no end to climate disasters in India. But, how are people dealing with this onslaught? They are pretty much at the mercy of the elements.
India has been very vocal about the need to enhance funding for adaptation in the global climate negotiations. A 10-member delegation from India which participated in the Bonn climate meet during June 6-16 had also raised the issues of “loss and damage” and “adaptation” funding at the meeting meant to prepare for the next United Nations climate conference in November to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
Loss and damage refers to the impact of extreme weather events such as more severe cyclones, floods and heat extremes and slow onset events like sea level rise or glacial retreat.
India had intervened strongly thrice to emphasise loss and damage and the finances needed to mitigate the impacts of global warming, an environment ministry official who represented India at Bonn told
me. “Averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage is mandated in the Article 8 of the Paris Agreement,” they submitted.
The Indian delegation had pointed out that loss and damage pertain to actions before and after the impact of climate crisis and are not confined to immediate relief, response and humanitarian aid. Also, loss and damage and adaptation finance are two different issues which need to be addressed separately developing countries had demanded in Bonn.
On adaptation, the demand was to ensure developed countries deliver equal amounts of funds under climate finance assistance for adaptation and mitigation of climate crisis. The issues of adaptation and loss and damage finance will be raised again by developing countries at COP 27 in Egypt.
But the pace of decision-making and even delivering on decisions taken at the UN climate negotiations is way too slow to respond to the urgent crises facing most of India today. India cannot rely on developments globally to protect its people from impacts of climate crisis.
At least half the world’s population, which includes all of India, lives in regions highly vulnerable to the climate crisis, which has become complex, with several interacting factors likely to increase food prices, reduce household incomes, and lead to malnutrition and climate-related deaths, especially in tropical regions, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had warned earlier this year.
South Asia is among the most vulnerable, with the Ganga basin likely to face severe water shortage by 2050, Mumbai at high risk from flooding and sea-level rise, and Ahmedabad at danger from the so-called urban heat island effect. Several of these impacts are of such a kind (or magnitude) that they are beyond the ability to adapt of nature and human life and even a temporary breach of 1.5-degree global warming threshold could be disastrous, IPCC said in its working group II report titled “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” released in February. In India, these impacts are a lived reality and the limits to adaptation are already being felt.
Then why don’t we have an adaptation strategy?
Road and building infrastructure need to be made extremely resilient to extreme rainfall events while also ensuring buildings offer thermal comfort; drainages, rivers, lakes, ponds which play the most crucial role in draining floodwaters need to be made barrier free without fail; early warnings for extreme weather need to reach every home in every district; farmers need assistance to deal with crop loss both due to extended dry periods or extreme rainfall events. Ecologically sensitive areas like the Western Ghats or the Western Himalayas urgently need focused planning to reduce footfalls during peak monsoons.
These issues seem to be completely missing from the climate change policy discussions presently. Instead, existing policies to notify and protect ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats are being delayed for years; there are no assessments on how pilgrim footfall and associated infrastructure like the char dham road project are impacting people during monsoons in the Himalayan states. The deadline to finalise the draft notification to officially earmark ecologically sensitive areas (ESA) of the Western Ghats in six states has been extended for another year through a notification last week, thus allowing activities like rock quarrying, mining and establishment of new industries for now.
The draft notification is now in its fourth iteration and was expected to be finalised by June 30, but differences persisted between the governments of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat. The issue of notifying ESAs in the Western Ghats has been one of the stickiest environment protection challenges in India, with the states resisting the classification for they will curb activities that have an economic benefit, even as the lack of checks mean the delicate ecology is eroded, threatening to worsen monsoon flooding and landslides, and lead to irreversible loss of plant and animal habitat, including of the many endemic species.
From the climate crisis to air pollution, from questions of the development-environment tradeoffs to India’s voice in international negotiations on the environment, HT’s Jayashree Nandi brings her deep domain knowledge in a weekly column
The views expressed are personal