Climate Change

'People living in coastal regions likely to suffer from vector-borne diseases'

Besides taking a toll on human health, climate change gives rise to conflicts and migration

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Monday 24 August 2015

In coastal areas like the Sundarbans, the rate of climate-induced migration remains high
Credit: Marufish/Flickr

A recent study conducted by Columbia University researchers focuses on climate change and its negative impacts on human health, particularly in the coastal regions of the world.

Research shows that climate variability invariably leads to conflicts, violence and migration, as people prefer to move away from those areas that fail to provide food, water and shelter.

In an interview with Down To Earth, A K Ghosh, the director of Centre for Environment & Development, a Kolkata-based non-profit, speaks about the threat to India due to climate change.

How vulnerable is India to climate change? Are tropical countries more at risk than those in the temperate zone?

India is already marked as one of the most vulnerable nations, having three major vulnerable ecosystems: the Himalayan Mountain Range, the vast arid and semi-arid zone in the west and the 7,500-km long coastline. Each one of this (is) high(ly) vulnerable as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

(The risk of climate change is higher in tropical countries) in terms of tropical cyclones, (and it has been seen) during (the) past eight years. The number stands at six cyclones in South East Asia alone as against one in the cooler temperate regions.

A study by the Columbia University reveals the negative impact of climate change on health. What according to you are its impacts?

Increase in vector-borne diseases in the tropical region(s), especially malaria, (prevalence) of water-borne diseases in epidemic form after every major storm surge and coastal inundation (as well as) more ultraviolet-related diseases.

People (living) in coastal and estuarine regions are likely to suffer most from vector-borne and water-borne diseases. The post-cyclone Aila scenario in the Sundarbans has clearly established the above findings.

Is slowing down climate change the solution?

Since for more than two decades we have been discussing the issue, it appears that, while admitting “common but differentiated responsibilities” in letters and words, historical emitters have miserably failed to keep up their promises under the Kyoto Protocol.

A mutual blame game can never solve the problem and adaptation cannot be the final answer, although it seems to be the most compelling one. How long one can go on adapting to the rising temperature?

Apart from mangroves, what other types of vegetation can prove beneficial for tackling extreme weather events?

Scientists believe that green cover, especially of broad-leaved plants, can be of great help in reducing the impact of climate change by extending the sink area on land. (The term sink area is used for atmospheric carbon deposition).

How climate change leads to migration? Has this happened in India?

Our studies show that there has been (large-scale) migration of people due to climate-induced disasters from both the Indian Sundarbans Delta in West Bengal and the Mahanadi Delta in Odisha.

In the Sundarbans Delta, migration has taken place over 25 years due to coastal erosion and sea-level rise.

Migration of men took place after the Cyclone Aila in 2009. Our study reveals that out of 5,301 males, 3,014 migrated to peri-urban areas of Kolkata and other states.

My colleagues in Odisha had suggested migration after the Super Cyclone in 1999, but there has been no empirical study. However, the following areas of Mahanadi Delta are most vulnerable based on scientific studies and from where migration is likely to occur most: Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak and Balasore.

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