Calcutta Notebook


Floods in the himalays! The unprecedented flash floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh claimed more than five thousand lives and over 70,000 pilgrims for the Himalayan shrines—Kedarnath and Badrinath—stranded at the time of writing. The nature’s fury was due to excessive damming of himalayan rivers. Man’s intervention, rather unscientific intervention, has its own pitfalls. The nature is taking revenge in its own very way. In truth this kind of disaster has nver happened in Himalayan history. Climate pattern in India is changing very fast as it is happening alarmingly elsewhere in the world. It is all due to global warming which the persons in authority and vested interests refuse to recognise, at the perils of welfare and national economy.

No doubt the biggest and most obvious impact of global worming in India has been on rainfall patterns. It rains when it should not and does not rain when it should. Farmers sow crops, expecting rains that don't come. Or there is a lot of rain at the time of cutting and threshing, which damages the crop and fodder. Farmers are being constantly forced to react. Both the kharif and rabi crops are getting affected. Those in rainfed areas and without access to groundwater bear the brunt of this. If anything essential crops in India are still extremely rain-dependent: for instance, half the land under cereals is dependent only on rainfall.

Earlier it used to rain more evenly over a season. Nowadays, in many areas, it does not rain for many days and then a lot of rain falls in a few hours or couple of days. This has been linked to warmer sea surface temperatures. More intense rain hurts the standing crop, affects the planting of crops, and damages the topsoil. It also has a number of bad implications for flooding, for people's access to drinking water etc.

Warmer winters are being felt all over India but in particular at higher altitudes. The Himalayas have warmed by little less than 2 degrees C. It is causing a change in snowfall in Kashmir and Ladakh, and reduced snow at mid- to high-latitudes. Instead of snowing, precipitation is happening as rain. Small glaciers are disappearing and large glaciers melting from above and below. This impacts people's access to water for drinking and for irrigation. There's drying of streams and increase of forest fires and pests in some hill regions.

Also, parts of central India in a region called Bundelkhand have been experiencing continuous drought for the last 15 years. A couple of years ago, there was complete collapse of agriculture, huge migration of agricultural workers, small farmers, poor women, with their entire families. Livestocks were being abandoned to a dusty death because of lack of water and fodder.

Many factors affect health; to isolate climate change is neither easy nor necessary. There's been reduced nutrition for the poor as a consequence of climate change, which adversely impacts health over time. Climate change has contributed to—among other factors—higher food prices in recent years. The reduced food intake has resulted in increased rate of death and serious illness among the poor in parts of central India in the last one year.

Mosquitoes and diseases like malaria, dengue and chikanguniya have spread wider. There has also been an increase in the number, area and duration of heat waves in parts of India. This causes heat stress and deaths, particularly of the poor and aged.

A lot of the excess heat energy due to global warming is being absorbed by the oceans. Sea level rise due to warmer oceans has been experienced by coastal peoples for over 30 years in the Sunderbans, in Gujarat, and elsewhere in India. For them it has meant a slow erosion of their lands, homes, wells, fields and other livelihood sources.

Rising sea surface temperatures is causing greater frequency of storm surges along the Eastern Coast. The salt water that comes in with storms harms coastal agriculture and drinking water sources. Stronger cyclones and winds and sea-level rise is contributing to erosion of beaches. Fisherpeople in Karnataka regularly complain that their going out to sea has become more risky because there is no clear pattern any more of rainfall and storms. Recent studies have shown that wind patterns have also changed, its timing, direction, affecting fishing. And all these changes tend to hit the poor much more in India.

Vol. 46, No. 2, Jul 21- 27, 2013

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