Disaster in the Making

Apr 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Health and Climate Change, News, Vulnerability, Weather

column1-5_650_040214083939The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again brought forth the reality about climate change. Compared to earlier reports, the evidence presented is robust since it is based on a larger body of scientific, technical and socioeconomic evidence of climate change. The evidence of climate change impacts is “strongest and most comprehensive” for natural systems such as glaciers and oceans. The impact is already visible on agricultural crops.

Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, the panel has concluded that negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common. Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions, while rice yields have been affected to lesser extent. Human health too is getting impacted. Local changes in temperature and rainfall have altered distribution of some water-borne illnesses and disease vectors such as mosquitoes.

It is difficult for global reports such as those prepared by IPCC to assess or predict impacts of climate change at a country level, as these reports largely rely on work done in several countries and regions. Nevertheless, they serve as important indicators of changing climate and its impact on our lives. The unseasonal rains and freak hailstorms that lashed many parts of the country this past month have left a trail of destruction and loss of human lives. Sudden loss of standing crops has led many farmers to end their lives in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. While it may take some time for scientists to analyse these events and tell us if they are part of a pattern of freak incidents, such incidents definitely fall in the category of “extreme weather events” whose frequency was predicted to go up due to climate change.The objective of IPCC reports is to alert policy makers and politicians and prod them into action. Unfortunately, politicians are not paying any heed to warnings coming from scientists. India had prepared a National Climate Change Action Plan five years ago but there has been little on the ground. Several missions were planned under this action plan, but work is just beginning on some of them. For instance, the mission on sustainable Himalayan ecology was sanctioned just couple of months ago. This mission is very critical as nearly one dozen Indian states fall in the Himalayan region, a large number of people live in this region and a bulk of Indian landmass is fed by Himalayan rivers. Besides the national action plan, every state is supposed to initiate its own climate change plan. If we are unable to take any steps to prevent climate change – such as reducing emissions of heattrapping gases – we can at least prepare ourselves to mitigate and adapt to impacts of climate change. Let’s not wait till catastrophic impacts start unfolding. Climate sceptics – funded by fossil fuel lobbies – will continue to deny or seek to dilute impacts of climate change, but this is not going to change the situation on the ground.

Right step towards perfect sanitationFor an emerging economy like India, it is indeed shameful that half of its population – 620 million – has no access to toilets and is therefore forced to defecate in open. The practice is rampant in both rural areas and urban pockets. The government has drawn up massive plans to construct millions of toilets every year, but the pace is so slow that India would be able to meet the sanitation target under the Millennium Development Goals only by 2054.

The reason for this is simple – providing sanitation is like laying power lines. You have to construct not just toilets but also lay sewer lines, treatment plants and provide water. Can technology help provide any shortcuts? Six groups of Indian researchers from top ranking institutes have got grants from the Department of Biotechnology to do jus this, under a unique programme called “Reinvent the Toilet”.

Next generation toilets will use solar energy to incinerate waste or biogas digester to convert it into compost and will be able to treat liquid waste locally. At present, some of these prototypes look more like mini factories, but their developers are confident that final products would be much more sleek.

IIT students win Gandhian tech awardsIt is increasingly becoming clear that young engineering or science students deliver when they are given a specific challenge and an incentive. This is the experience of Techpedia, a consortium of college students incubated by innovation guru Anil Gupta at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Techpedia has instituted some interesting awards for young innovators – More from Less for Many Award, Socially Relevant Innovation or Technology Award and Technological Edge or Strategic Innovation award.

Collectively these awards are called Gandhian technology awards. Out of 1,400 nominations covering 60 technology fields, 13 were selected for awards this year. Awarded innovations include low cost cardiovascular diagnostic kit for rural areas, lowcost device to increase adherence to TB medication, thermal and combustion improvements in cook stoves, low-cost diagnostic for pneumonia and herbal spermicide.

 Health and education are two key determinants of development but they are yet to become an election issue in India. The Congress party has made a beginning by promising Right to Health in its manifesto, while rival BJP is yet to outline its vision on this issue. The Congress manifesto says that the right to health will ensure “all people obtain easily accessible, quality health services based on a combination of public provision and social insurance”.

Carefully read, this is a departure from the policies pursued till now by the health ministry in which the role of private sector was increasingly becoming important even in provision of public services. It’s good that the Congress party wants to bring the focus back on public system. This is in line with thinking in several countries where public health systems are being strengthened.


Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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