As Jammu and Kashmir continues to reel under its worst floods in 60 years, which have stranded over 6 lakh people and killed about 200, the attention is slowly veering towards the reasons and causes behind this unprecedented natural disaster. An analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) suggests that this could very well be another manifestation of an extreme weather event – induced by a changing climate.
“The Kashmir floods are a grim reminder that climate change is now hitting India harder. In the last 10 years, several extreme rainfall events have rocked the country, and this is the latest calamity in that series,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE deputy director general and the head of its climate change team.
CSE researchers have compiled a list of such extreme events – these include the Mumbai floods of 2005, the Leh cloudburst of 2010 and the Uttarakhand floods of 2013. In each of these disasters, thousands have died and the economic losses incurred have run into thousands of crores of rupees.
As was the case with some of the previous extreme rainfall events, the scale of disaster in J&K has been exacerbated by unplanned development – especially on the riverbanks. In the last 100 years, more than 50 per cent of the lakes, ponds and wetlands of Srinagar have been encroached upon for constructing buildings and roads. The banks of the Jhelum river have been taken over in a similar manner, vastly reducing the river’s drainage capacity. Naturally, these areas have suffered the most.
The tragedy in J&K, says Chandra Bhushan, is that the state has not been prepared to handle such extreme rainfall events. In fact, J&K does not have a flood forecasting system. Its disaster management system is also rudimentary.
The climate connect
Heavy and very heavy rainfall events in India has increased over the past 50-60 years. A study done by B. N. Goswami of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, shows that between 1950 and 2000, the incidence of heavy rainfall events (> 100 mm/day) and very heavy events (>150 mm/day) have increased and moderate events (5-100 mm/day) have decreased.
Most climate models also predict that India will be hit more and more by extreme rainfall events as the world continues to warm in the coming decades.
According to the latest analysis by the Working Group II of the IPCC Assessment Report (AR5), floods and droughts are likely to increase in India. India will get more rainfall but in lesser number of rainy days. Increase in extreme precipitation during monsoons is also predicted.
The IPCC’s 2011 Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation – abbreviated as the SREX report – presents projections for the period 2071-2100. It points to increasing incidents of more frequent and intense heavy precipitation over most regions.
What, then, should India do? Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, says: To begin with, the Indian government must discard its ostrich-like policy and get out of its denial mode. We will have to see the linkages between climate change and the events such as those unfolding in J&K. We will have to accept that climate change is going to affect us more and more in the future. We will, therefore, have to start preparing to adapt to the changing climate.”
India should start internalising climate change adaptation in all developmental policies and programme. From building of cities infrastructure to agriculture and from water supply to energy infrastructure, we will have make changes to incorporate climate change impacts, says Narain.
Chandra Bhushan adds: “India will also have to proactively work with other countries to reduce emissions to control the warming of the planet. Most studies show that India is one of the most vulnerable countries. A warmer planet will affect India severely – and its poor would be the worst impacted.”
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