India has many examples of maladaptation, making vulnerable communities becoming more helpless to climate impact
There is increased evidence of maladaptation in various sectors and regions, highlighted the Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) cycle released on March 20.
Maladaptation is defined by the IPCC as the “changes in natural or human systems that inadvertently increase vulnerability to climate stimuli”. It is an adaptation measure that does not succeed in reducing vulnerability but increases it instead.
“Maladaptation affects marginalised and vulnerable groups adversely,” the report further stated.
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India has many such examples of maladaptation, resulting in vulnerable communities becoming more helpless to the impacts of climate change rather than being able to adapt to them.
For instance, Odisha government undertook several measures to adapt to the impacts of rising sea levels and intense cyclones along the coast.
These were the rehabilitation of vulnerable villages, construction of protective structures using geosynthetic tubes, installation of solar fish drying units to aid livelihoods and plantation of mangroves for stabilisation of coasts against erosion.
Odisha has one of the most dynamic coasts in the country, with sea levels rising at a rate more than the average for the rest of the country. It is also the most cyclone-prone state in India.
Most, if not all, measures have failed to help the vulnerable communities in these areas adapt to the extreme sea level (ESL) events associated with tidal changes.
The changes affect dynamic regions such as river mouths and the mouth of the Chilika lake. It can also happen due to storm surges which are increases in the height of tides that lead to coastal flooding and inundation. They usually accompany cyclones.
An example is Arakhakuda village close to the area where the Chilika lake opens to the sea. Mangrove trees were planted in a total area of 60 ha on the small islands between the village and the coast by Bhubaneswar-based non-profit Pallishree under Phase 1 of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management of the Odisha government.
Mangrove restoration and regeneration are being used globally as an ecosystem-based solution for coastal adaptation to protect from the impacts of climate change. The roots of the mangrove trees act as natural tide breakers during such extreme events. The foliage of the mangroves also acts as a buffer for the swift winds of cyclones.
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Further, mangroves are essential for the livelihoods of the local communities as they act as rich breeding grounds for myriad fish, crab and prawn species. They are also necessary for conserving the biodiversity of the areas where they grow and can store 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
Pallishree’s work on the mangrove plantation in Arakhakuda started in 2014 and ended around 2019. The area was originally not a mangrove area and the plantation of mangroves was carried out on a trial and error method, according to D P Dash, secretary of Pallishree.
But during Cyclone Fani, the mangrove trees were not mature enough to ensure any protection and many of them were lost to the storm surge. While the locals in Arakhakuda claimed that 75 per cent of the mangroves had been lost to the sea or are degraded, Dash said only around 25 per cent of mangroves had been lost.
Cyclone Fani opened four new mouths along the coast, two closed in April 2022 and two are still open.
The increase of seawater in the lake has disturbed the delicate salinity gradient of the lake and led to the decline of fish catch by 70-80 per cent, according to local fisherfolk. Now they are looking for other avenues of livelihood, making them even more vulnerable than they were before.
One has to be careful about the difference between mangrove restoration and regeneration; and mangrove plantation. The former is done in areas which are conducive for mangrove growth but have lost them over the years to either deforestation or other land use changes.
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Mangrove plantation, on the other hand, is done in new areas where mangroves have not existed before.
“Mangrove restoration and regeneration, if done scientifically, is an excellent climate change adaptation measure for coastal Odisha,” Sadhwi Sindura of conservation non-profit World Wild Fund told Down To Earth.
However, mangrove plantation should be generally discouraged as it may lead to disturbances in the local ecosystems and aggravate the impacts instead of mitigating them, Sindura added.
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