Heat Waves, Bad Monsoons...

Recurring droughts and   floods continue to ravage most parts of India. In a sense it is the general scenario throughout the world. That climate change is a real threat to living organisms on the planet earth is a fact of life. Whether they can reach a consensus on the issue called climate change at the forthcoming Paris Summit is open to question. The root cause of global warming is reckless industrialisation. And its opposite is de-industrialisation or balanced industrialisation. But corporates don’t see any reason to review ‘Limits to Growth’ theory despite frequent natural calamities that visit the earth every now and then. They talk of ‘Grave Danger’ of climatic change when some natural disaster strikes some part of the globe. Then it is business as usual. The Kyoto protocol raised hopes but hopes were killed in no time. The economically disadvantaged continue to bear the bitter legacy of Kyoto. Even the die-hard optimists don’t think ‘Paris’ would be any different from Kyoto.

In the past two decades, occurred ten of the world’s deadliest-ever heat waves. Four cruel heat waves have been in India. Next to the heat wave of 1998, this year’s glistering spell (April to July) has taken a toll of nearly 2600 lives. Actual numbers either go unreported or are recorded as deaths due to specific ailments, even if these are directly related to thermal stress. After water, notably through floods and water borne infections, heat is the second largest natural killer in India. The bulk of deaths in this heat wave has been reported from the south, mainly Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. The poor, the homeless and day labourers are invariably the worst victims. Of the sun stroke victims in the two states, nearly 40% were enrolled under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme.

Thepa Kharia, an unemployed 55-year-old labourer, was found dead at his home in a remote village near Gumla (Jharkhand state), 450 km west of Kolkata. The man whose headless body was found, appears to have been the victim of human sacrifice on 31 May 2015, by Orkas occultists, seeking rainfall amid one of the most severe heat waves in decades. What a tragedy! Recent temperatures in Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, have exceeded 47°C, shrivelling crops and leading to drought like conditions. In truth this time some eastern states including West Bengal and Bihar witnessed unprecedented heat waves.

The situation is likely to get complicated further as most states will have different rainfall this season. Predictions for a declining monsoon in India, has contributed to Rs 1.5 trillion two day slump in the nation’s equities, at beginning June 2015. Weaker rainfall predictions stoked concerns that reduced farm output may hurt the economy. Growing water risks for investors and companies in India, caused the rupee to slide. The stage is set for clashes with thirsty industries, as about half of India’s 1.26 billion people face potential surface-water disruptions. As ground water diminishes, water risk is becoming of increasing importance for investment decisions. The Indus basin aquifer of north-western India and Pakistan is the second most overstretched in the world. While India relies on ground water as piped supplies cannot meet demand, there has occurred aquifer over exploitation by farms, businesses and cities. Some Indian coal fired power plants, in the energy sector, are in areas of ‘‘extremely high’’ water stress, which could trigger blackouts and affect profitability. Last year Bengal’s Kolaghat thermal power station had to shut some of its units for shortage of water. Fuel and water are needed by the power plants, to generate electricity. With patching electricity metering, electricity theft, below cost supplies, and lack of water regulations, water continues to be over exploited. The forecast for June-September 2015 rainfall, is at 88% of a 50-year average.

This means there would be acute drinking water problems in parts of the country. Unless the government authorities ban indiscriminate use of ground water, stop hydro-power generations and resort to proper river management with a view to rationalising water use, both for industry and human consumption, India will witness water riots, not communal riots in the coming days.

Vol. 48, No. 2, July 19 - 25, 2015