Soon after the hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston it was followed by Irma, which grew into the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. Now Maria- a powerful category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, has devastated Puerto Rico.
The frequency of large-scale tornado outbreaks is increasing in the United States, according to research recently published in Science. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Colorado State University, and the Weather Channel have collectively estimated that this year is likely to witness a large number of hurricanes. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecasted 14 to 19 named storms and five to nine hurricanes this season.
Erratic weather events are becoming a problem for the Indian farmers as well. Farmers in some districts of Punjab are badly hit as their wheat crops have been destroyed by unseasonal rain and hailstorm. Reports of rain and hail accompanied by winds were received from all parts of the district, but a few villages like Chuhar Chak, Balkhandi, and Daulatpura were badly affected. In August, Mumbai was battered by a monsoon storm. The storm in Mumbai deposited 15% of the city’s annual rainfall in a single day. The same occurred on August 21 in Chandigarh, northern India. Bengaluru received 30% of its annual average on August 15 – the heaviest rainfall to be recorded in the city in the past century.
Dr. Hem Dholakia, Senior Research Associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), told BE, “Erratic weather events are a dynamic interplay of human induced climate change as well as natural variability. The science is still evolving, hence attributing a single event like the Houston or Chennai floods solely to climate change may be misleading. However, what is concerning is that science indicates that erratic weather events are likely to become more frequent and intense due to climate change.”
Weather-related catastrophies like floods‚ windstorms and drought have increased 600% since the 1950s‚ according to ClimateWise‚ a coalition of global insurers‚ brokers and industry service providers. These disasters have cost the world economy $170 billion in 2016 alone.
Flood and drought- two sides of climate change
According to the latest data released by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), 2016 was the warmest
year for India in the last 116 years. The report also stated that India’s top five warmest years since 1901 have been all recorded in the last 15 years. The southern states in India faced the worst drought in 40 years. Assam faced the worst deluge in over a decade in 2016. This year, almost 40% of the districts in India are likely to face drought, whereas 25% districts have had heavy rainfall of more than 100mm within a few hours.
Latest studies by the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) show that average rainfall during the monsoon period is falling as the Indian Ocean gets warmer. The IITM’s latest analysis show that the summer rainfall during 1901–2012 over the central-eastern and northern regions of India along the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins and the Himalayan foothills is decreasing.
Dr. Dholakia informed, “Data shows that roughly half of the districts across India are already experiencing an increase in precipitation (India Adaptation Gap study carried out by CEEW, IIM-Ahmedabad and IIT-Gandhinagar, published in 2015). Further, the models predict that, over the next thirty years, we will witness more extreme rainfall events. As documented in “Climate Change: A Risk Assessment” (a study carried out by UK FCO, CEEW, Harvard University and Tsinghua University) on a high emissions pathway, flooding in the Gangetic basin could be six times more frequent over the course of the century. In addition to increased precipitation, several parts of India are experiencing hotter and longer summers that are proving detrimental to human health.”
Environmental activist Sunita Narain in an article in the Hindustan Times said, “Models have predicted that the first impact of a changing climate would be on increased frequency and intensity of weird and extreme weather events. It is happening. What should worry us is that models have predicted that this would only get worse as temperatures rise.”
What India needs to do?
On August 9, 2016, India’s former Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Anil Madhav Dave, informed the Lok Sabha that according to an Oxford University study, approximately 136,000 climate change-related deaths are projected in India. This is primarily due to decreased food production.
Many studies and reports have reiterated that the rate of warming in the Himalayas has been higher than the global average in the last three decades. As higher altitudes (mountainous regions) are experiencing higher warming rates, it is likely to drive species to higher elevations and along with them vector-borne diseases are also being transported. India’s neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan are experiencing outbreaks of various infectious diseases. India needs to integrate climate change and human health to its bilateral policies and focus on it in its deliberations in the SAARC fora. The government should start making climate proofing an integral part of its policy making.
“Going forward, comprehensive, regular climate risk assessments are the need of the hour. Such assessments will help identify the biggest risks or in other words – ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ As risks will vary across geographies, this information will help develop risk management plans relevant to local needs. This information forms the basis of strategic decision making such as (i) early warning systems that need to be developed; (ii) public and private investment required in climate risk reduction and building resilience as well as (iii) ensuring adequate capacity across institutions and individuals for an effective response,” concluded Dr. Dholakia.