Counting the cost of catastrophe
With changing climate, the frequency of extreme weather events in India
is rising and so is the price we pay for it

It is time we accept that the impact of climate change is in front of us as the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is increasing, and it would get worse with rising temperatures. The trend of such catastrophic events in the last 68 years (1950-2018) suggests that the definition of normal is changing. Let's take a look at how these extreme events increased in scale and number over the last almost seven decades.

Data: EM-DAT | The international disasters database, 2018, Indian Metrological Department (IMD) and Relief Web

Extreme: The new normal

Extreme weather events have increased from just 30 during 1951-1960 to 37 during 1961-70. That number increased by 443 per cent (163) during 2001-2010. Since 1950, 16.5 lakh people have died in extreme weather events in India. This is greater than the population of Mauritius. In fact, the total number of people affected by these extreme weather events in India in the last 68 years, which is 2.38 billion, is 78 per cent more than the country's current population. India had to suffer an economic loss of $US 93.30 billion or Rs 663,492.4 crore since 1950 due to these catastrophes.

Did you know? In India, most of the losses suffered in natural disasters are not insured. Of the Rs 663,492.4-crore loss suffered since 1950, only 4.92 per cent or Rs 32,652.83 crore is insured.

The warming trend in India (1901 - 2018)

(in percent)
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In search of a resilient future

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is increasing with rising temperature. For example, in the winters of 2017, when the average temperature was 2.95 degrees Celcius higher than the 1901-1930 baseline, the worst drought in a century happened in southern India, affecting 330 million people.

Did you know? 13 out of the 15 warmest years fell during the past 15 years (2002-2016). The last decade (2007-2018) was also the warmest on record.

India's vulnerability to such extreme weather events is increasing. Today, the country is more vulnerable to extreme rainfall as more people are living in low-lying areas and land development is changing drainage patterns.

Data source:

✸   EM-DAT | The international disasters database, Last updated Jan 2019
✸   India Meteorological Department (IMD)
✸   Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
✸   2017: The year climate change turned the weather really wild, Scroll
✸    Spiralling Temperature: Annual warming trends in India, Lalit Maurya & Rakesh Kamal,
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), June 2017

✸   IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change