The Rising Cost of Climate Impacts in India

The impacts of climate change over the last few years have been growing in scale and suffering as the poorest and the most vulnerable in India take the biggest hit. Take the recent crop devastation caused by unprecedented hail storms in central and southern India where over a 100 farmers committed suicide unable to bear the debt they accrued with another year of massive losses. It is hard not to see the climate connect when for many regions that suffered this storm, the precipitation was the highest ever in their recorded history. The state of Maharashtra, the worst hit by the storm is in fact yet to recover from the worst drought it had seen in 40 years that affected 30 million people in the summer of 2013.  Such incidents reinforce the vicious cycle that put farmers in perennial debt.

If erratic rainfall is one issue, the intensity of it is another. We don’t have to look too far into our past to remind us of the biblical floods that ravaged the state of Uttarakhand in June last year. An incredible downpour swallowed over 5000 lives and put a dent in the state’s tourism for a long time to come. The frequency and intensity of cyclones battering India has also gone up in the last decade. A case in point is cyclone Phailin, a freak superstorm that left a trail of destruction in its path across the eastern coast of India in August ‘13.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that further inaction on climate change will only exacerbate the erratic rainfall patterns, crop loss, heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events in India. The challenge as expected does not limit itself to the poorest, as we are beginning to witness indirect effects of extreme weather in the form of rising food prices and ever burgeoning costs of relief and rehabilitation.

Acting on climate change in the Indian context involves both mitigation and adaptation. Proactive measures need to be taken to support people in staving off the worst impacts of extreme weather whilst creating a vision of development that does not focus on aggravating the problem by increasing carbon emissions through our dependence on fossil fuels.

As the world’s largest democracy goes to polls this year, a lot is at stake for the future of those teeming millions of Indians who are barely making ends meet. As political parties of all hues and colours promise development, it is difficult yet important to separate the wheat from the chaff and so far it’s all been chaff. Development that pulls over 300 million people out of poverty is a national imperative but the current policies and polity of parties across the spectrum grossly ignore the impacts of climate change on their well adorned development driven manifestos.

(Below are images of the hail storm in Maharashtra and the cyclone Phailin in Odisha)

House of Ch Ruby in PodampettaHailstorm

 

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