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Losing Sleep over Climate Change

Losing Sleep over Climate Change

by Apoorva Satpathy, India (EUREC 2016/17)

“Save our motherland, or else Climate Change will take it all away”.

The spectre of climate change is on everyone’s mind these days.

Mothers could soon be telling bedtime stories about it to scare their kids to sleep. But unlike with past bogeymen, the threat this time is real.

Climate change is here, and its effects are visible to everyone: The roaring heat waves on the streets of Delhi, Orissa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and nearby states; the voracious cyclones and hurricanes with torrential rains hitting the coastal states and the scary droughts in the central, eastern and southern India, leaving the lands shrivelled and parched for consecutive years.

Last August, Mumbai office workers complained of being stuck at the office due to the heavy downpour and waterlogging in across the city. I also recall my mother yelling over the phone when the roof of her office building, made of the modern design so-called porta cabin, was blown away by the Roanu cyclonic winds in May 2016 in Odisha. 

Even before the recent Cyclone Ockhi, India had  suffered a succession of extreme weather events: the Bihar floods of 2017, Cyclones Nada, Kyant, Roanu of 2016, Gujarat Cyclone of 2015, Cyclone Hudhud of 2014, Uttarakhand floods of 2013, Kosi floods of 2005, Tsunami of 2004 and so on. In 2015-2016, the country experienced its most prolonged drought ever recorded. This affected 330 million people – the largest impact ever recorded for a natural disaster, according to findings by de Louvain Catholic University, based in Brussels, Belgium.

India has been categorized as one of the most vulnerable countries in the Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch, a non-profit and non-governmental organization based in Bonn, Germany. This index also analyses deaths and economic losses resulting from climate variations, often referred to as Loss and Damage in the international

context.

With every disaster comes alarming newspaper headlines detailing the growing count of people killed and missing in the days following the occurrence along with the prolonged losses and damages such as incidence of epidemics and diseases after the floods and heavy rain; water and food insecurity; crop failures and huge economic losses faced by the farmers often resulting in suicides; fish migration due to coastal flooding and large scale human migration and displacement.

Today’s young Indian adults remember the times when monsoon showers would prompt children to come out of their houses to play football in the drenching rain. Now, however, monsoon season brings sights of floating bodies, cars and cattle, people sitting on the roofs of their houses waiting for the water to dry up and buildings collapsing, making the death toll soar. When the River Ganga flooded in Varanasi in August 2016, traditional riverside cremations had to shift to the terraces of nearby houses

In the years to come, rising temperatures will hurt agricultural production, climate scientists say. Farmer suicides due to financial problems are on the rise, particularly amid crop failures caused by droughts. Studies suggest that climate change impacts are one of the drivers of such suicides.

The magnitude of losses and damages in terms of lives, property and infrastructure is already tremendous for India.  However, some of the damage could be mitigated through farther-sighted plans and policies.

“Climate insurance is preferable to fund-raising after a disaster, and we hope that government will take this forward“, said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a climate and energy policy think-tank based in New Delhi.

The government and development agencies are looking at how to extend insurance against losses of crops, agricultural lands, livestock and even family members due to drought and other natural impacts. But this would be unsustainable if the droughts or floods become a norm.

Beyond insurance policies, India needs financial instruments and policies to address unsafe migration, the sea-level rise affecting coasts, salinization, anticipated warming and other changes in the agricultural landscape.

Increasing salinity has led to the decline of the Sunderban mangrove forest cover, while ocean acidification has increased fish mortality in South Indian state economies.

Measures need to be taken to lower down the intensity of the impacts. For example, a flood forecasting system built in Odisha by Action for Climate Today (ACT), an initiative of UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Oxford Policy Management, aims to promote climate-resilient actions and build climate-change knowledge among decision makers.

Victims of the first impacts of climate change are mostly those least responsible for causing it. Better policies could bring them a measure of justice as well as helping to avert an even wider national and global catastrophe.

The monster may not be entirely stoppable, but together we can keep it from growing too big.

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I wrote this article on Loss and Damage in India due to climate change which got published in The Political and Business Daily- Odisha State Edition, India on 13th Dec 2017.

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