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Climate Change Has Made 75% of Indian Districts Vulnerable to Extreme Weather: Study

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Dec 22, 2020

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Image Credit: Reuters

75% of Indian districts are vulnerable to extreme weather events such as cyclones, droughts, floods, and cold waves, according to a new study. These districts are home to 638 million Indians, suggesting extreme climate events in the future will upend many lives and livelihoods.

Extreme weather conditions, like cyclones, can occur naturally, even before the effects of climate change were felt. But human activities have made these natural disasters stronger and more frequent, a canon of previous research has concluded. The present study, released this month by the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), a New Delhi-based not-for-profit policy research institution, suggests a greater area of India’s landmass is prone to these events than before.

The new report also found the number of extreme weather events in India has increased from about 250 in the 35 years between 1970 and 2005 to 310 in just the 15 years since 2005. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, India is considered to be the fifth-most vulnerable country, globally, to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

“…what we have done is aggravated [the natural] process, [and] what we need is participatory partners to come together and develop an adaptive strategy so that these phenomena can be tackled,” Abinash Mohanty, Program Lead in the Risks and Adaptation team at CEEW, and author of the report, told Business Standard.

The report states the accumulation of micro-climatic changes across the Indian sub-continent, triggered by human activities like deforestation, encroachment upon mangrove forests and wetlands, and other changes in land use, has increased the country’s vulnerability to extreme weather events.


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Interestingly, the study also noted an as-yet inexplicable anomaly: in more than 40% of India’s districts, the researchers found a complete reversal in the type of extreme climate events — with flood-prone areas becoming drought-prone, and vice versa.

“This role reversal has happened in two ways…. For instance, in Gaya, half the district has been experiencing floods and the other half drought. This trend is both unusual and alarming and definitely requires further investigation,” Mohanty told The Indian Express. He added that this calamity reversal hinders the ability of local administrative bodies to prepare for such events since they “may budget for and be prepared for a drought but be hit by a flood instead.”

The new research adds backing to a UN report published in October, which found that natural disasters had almost doubled, globally, in the past 20 years. The UN report blamed “industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and called upon policymakers to implement disaster risk-reduction strategies and to invest in early warning systems. 

CEEW’s report also calls for more extensive climate risk assessment and greater availability of weather and climate data in India.

“I agree with the findings of the report…. In general, there is a spike in extreme weather events, particularly extreme rainfall and heat wave events…. Our climate models are showing that these trends will continue for the next few years so we need to worry,” Madhavan Nair Rejeevan, Ph.D., a scientist and the secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told Hindustan Times. Rejeevan was not involved in the CEEW study.

“We are willfully destructive… It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people,” Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for disaster risk reduction and head of UNDRRhad told Al Jazeera earlier this year following the release of the UN report on natural disasters.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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