Climate Change and Extreme Weather In India

Climate change has been one of the prime issues of the 21st century. We have been discussing and debating its consequences at various forums. Ironically, many at present actually question the credibility of climate change and refute it as an outcome of a natural process. Debates aside, we have begun to face the real consequences of climate change on a massive scale in India. We are facing extreme weather conditions and are yet to find some reasons for this very quick change in the climatic conditions. Climate change today threatens the very future of this planet and we have the power to bring about positive change that can alter the course of climate change. But it is possible only if we act before it’s too late.

An overview of the extreme weather conditions in India

India is a country with diversity in all fronts including its climate conditions and topography. With its vast landmass, it experiences scorching heat and freezing cold. But the situation now is starkly different from what it was earlier. The country was experiencing one of its hottest summers in 100 years a few months back. Many of its states were experiencing drought-like conditions. Farmers demanded the declaration of crop failure and the provision of compensation for their loss. However, today the situation has become the opposite. At present, close to 10 states in India are experiencing severe and unprecedented floods. Though the onset of monsoon was a little delayed, the intensity of it has been out of proportion.

The most ironic fact is that extremes of weather exist in close proximity. While the entire region of North-East India is experiencing a 38% rainfall deficit, the state of Assam has been devastated by one of the worst floods in its history. When cities like Chennai are finding it difficult to secure sufficient water for daily use, all neighbouring states are experiencing flooding and extreme rainfall. The intensity of rainfall has been blown out of proportion with Karnataka experiencing a 3000 percent increase in the rainfall from what it ideally receives during this time period. Flooding has become a common experience for cities like Mumbai and states like Kerala, giving them no time to rebuild and recover. It is tangibly evident that the consequences of climate change have now begun to affect us tremendously.

Research into extreme weather

Extreme weather conditions have become the new normal. We have been experiencing long periods of scanty rainfall followed by periods of unprecedented and extremely heavy rainfall. This erratic pattern has been observed in most parts of the world, especially in India, where the monsoon had failed continuously for several years while now the country is experiencing extreme rainfall. This does seem to fit with the predicted pattern of extreme weather conditions. Now the question that may arise is, when would all this be over? The answer to this question is quite disappointing as we are bound to experience more inconsistent and extreme weather events in the coming years.

Strong evidence for this comes from a study of rainfall patterns over a 100-year time period. Global rainfall data since the early 1900s were analysed and two major conclusions were brought forward. Firstly, it was found that the number of rainy days in a year has been declining. Secondly, it was identified that the number of days with extreme rainfall exceeding 10 to 15 centimetres are increasing. This is actually an alarming finding that goes in line with our understanding that long periods of scanty rainfall are followed by short periods of extreme rainfall. The general conclusion that we can derive here is that rainfall is more likely to be extreme in the coming years and it’s bound to get worse than better.

In India, the most recent and crucial study on climate change was undertaken by scientists in IIT Gandhinagar. This study established that extreme weather conditions are a consequence of anthropogenic warming. This essentially means that the increased global temperatures and the change in the earth’s climatic system are a consequence of human activities. This establishes that extreme weather is caused by human action and is not the result of a natural process. It provides crucial evidence in order to persuade people to act. The study was also able to provide some evidence about the future course of extreme weather conditions.

The researchers analysed the patterns of rainfall and weather across various regions in the country. They were able to identify that Central and Southern India are expected to experience very high rainfall in the coming years, while on the other hand, the North and North-Eastern parts of India are expected to experience scanty rainfall. This also means that the Gangetic plains will be receiving scanty rainfall, threatening the sustenance of agriculture. The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting rapidly and this could wipe out huge tracts of agricultural lands on these mountainous regions. These would imminently create a huge food security crisis for the entire country.

Course of action for the future

The climate situation in India is changing rapidly and at a pace where we would not have sufficient time to act in the future. Established knowledge about our climate that is crucial for agriculture and other institutions is failing today. Our preparedness to face these calamities is always below par because of the fact that we never really know what’s coming. The future is going to be more uncertain than what we expect it to be and it is time to rediscover and prepare. The problem is monumental and we cannot get anywhere if we don’t start now.

We need to take responsibility for the future and begin to act. This cannot be attained within just the country, but we as a nation collectively need to take a strong stance at the international level. Climate change has created vulnerabilities for us that are being felt differently by different communities within the country. Awareness and the inclusion of all communities in the process of preparing for calamities and preventing them is also crucial if we are to actually help those affected. We have the technology for prediction today and we need to effectively make use of it for the purpose of preparing people from the grass root level.

Complex problems don’t have one single answer and we cannot stop when we have made little progress. Our efforts need to be sustained and sincere. As of now, we know that it is going to worsen in the future. Pressurising governments to draft stringent policies and comply with international treaties is a big first step. As inhabitants of this planet, it is our responsibility to redefine the way we live and bring ourselves out of our comfort zone. Many communities today live a sustainable lifestyle and we need to learn from them and adopt their practices. Bringing change can be hard and time-consuming but at this moment it should be our priority for the very survival of humankind and ultimately the planet.

Picture Courtesy- Climate Institute

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