Friday, 9 September 2016

An Indian Perspective to Climate Change: From the National to the Local!

by Raakhee Suryaprakash

Climate Change is a reality that we in India live with everyday. Some of the factors that make India and Indians vulnerable to Climate Change include:

  • vast coastlines;
  •  major metros on the coast at sea level;
  • developing economy with many new installations put at risk;
  • a massive population, rapid urbanization and unplanned & unsustainable cities;
  • Agriculture forms the backbone of the economy & employs a majority of rural Indians;
  • economic indicators dependent on success/failure of Monsoon;
  • Deforestation, etc.

Cycles of Floods and Drought
This past year two weather patterns have dominated the Indian news – flooding and drought. While farmers have been parched in parts of India, cities have flooded bringing the urban rat-race to a grinding halt. The US Secretary of State John Kerry inDelhi to sign the Logistics Agreement with India, ironically, was stranded first by rain affected traffic and then by heavy unseasonal rains hampering visibility and delaying takeoff. Urban flooding has had an effect on the functioning of the world for India as a services hub provides support to countries across the globe from our urban BPOs and IT Parks: many of these massive buildings have been built either on formerly fertile fields, marshlands or flood plains or reclaimed or dry water bodies making them especially vulnerable to flooding. This was first noticed in India during the Chennai Floods (December 2015 just ahead of the Paris Climate Summit – see image) when massive IT Parks and BPO complexes and Super-speciality Hospitals that were built since the 1990s flooded. Millions of cubic litres had to be pumped out of the basements using diesel gen-sets, which in turn polluted and spewed carbon. 

The flooding of our major river systems the Ganga and Brahmaputra has affected the fertile lands of the “Cow Belt” States (Bihar & Uttar Pradesh especially) and the North-East (Assam & Arunachal Pradesh particularly) and devastated infrastructure and displaced tens of thousands. Ironically, at the start of summer the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh had to deal with days of uncontrollable forest fires, yet during the monsoon that followed was in excess. The monsoon sadly overcompensated in few regions and left many regions parched. Reversing the trend in the beginning of the monsoon (June 2016 – see map). 

Water Wars:  A Microcosm
As a developing economy with a massively mobile middle-class the extreme weather patterns have a huge price tag. There are a lot more expensive things to drown in our cities. Yet in addition to rain-caused traffic the only other thing to bring the state of Karnataka to a halt and the IT hub of Bengaluru to a standstill is a strike called to protest the court’s decision to share water of the River Kaveri with neighbouring Tamil Nadu. This is water wars being fought out inter-state, if the water stress continues as a result of Climate Change Water World Wars could be the reality!
Hope amid Ruins
I recently had the opportunity to visit the southern island of Rameshwaram, this temple town became a thriving pilgrimage, tourism and business hub after the neighbouring island of Dhanushkodi was devastated by the December 1964 cyclone. Witnessing the power of enraged Mother Nature makes one commit to working to mitigate the effects of the Anthropocene! Climate adaptation and sustainable development with an emphasis on Low Carbon Growth are the needs of the hour and have to be incentivized national policy.

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