Natural Disasters

Expect more extreme climate events in India

IPCC report says Bangladesh and India account for 86 per cent mortality from tropical cyclones across the world

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Monday 31 March 2014

Cyclone Phailin ravaged over 300,000 houses in coastal Odisha in India's east coast, which the IPCC report says are among regions of maximum vulnerability

With over 1.2 billion people, India is deemed one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change impacts. According to the new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, India's agricultural sector would be worst hit.

Change in rainfall patterns would put millions of lives at stake, the IPCC report says. It states that Bangladesh and India account for 86 per cent mortality from tropical cyclones across the world. “On the east coast of India, clusters of districts with poor infrastructure and demographic development are also the regions of maximum vulnerability. Hence, extreme events are expected to be more catastrophic in nature for the people living in these districts,” the report states. The report identifies Delhi among the three of the world’s five most populated cities (the other two being Tokyo and Shanghai) which are located in areas with high risk of floods. 

Agriculture sector will be worst hit

With erratic and extreme monsoon, the report states that by 2030 India would face an agricultural loss of over US $7 billion, affecting income of 10 per cent of the people. But if climate resilience measures in the form adaptive strategies are implemented, 80 per cent of the losses could be averted, the report adds.

The report quotes various scientific and weather-related studies that show that there is an increase in the number of monsoon-break (dry spells) days. “The decline in the number of monsoon depressions are consistent with the overall decrease in seasonal mean rainfall … All models and scenarios project an increase in both the mean and extreme precipitation in the Indian summer monsoon,” the report states.

Caught between floods and drought

To illustrate this point further, the report quotes a study done on Mahanadi river basin in Odisha. The study shows a water availability projection in the river indicates increasing possibility of floods in September, but increasing water scarcity in April. This would further impact freshwater availability, which is influenced by climate-change factors like rainfall variability, snowmelt or glacier retreat in a river catchment, and evapo-transpiration. It also points that there has been significant depletion of groundwater resources in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. 

By 2100, large areas of tropical and subtropical lowland in Asia is projected to experience combinations of extreme temperature and rainfall which could easily outdo today's range experienced in these parts of the world, according to the IPCC report. The report states that a model projects changes in one-third of India's forest area from tropical deciduous type to evergreen cover, which may both have positive and adverse effects.

High growth fallout

The report also states that economic growth for both India and China could bring in more impacts from climate-change too. “Full liberalisation of tariffs and GDP growth concentrated in China and India has led  to transport emissions growing much faster than the value of trade, due to a shift towards distant trading partners,” says the report.

Food insecurity, disease outbreaks predicted
  • In the Ganges, an increase in river runoff could offset the large increases in water demand due to population growth in a world with temperature increase of 4ºC, due to a projected large increase in average rainfall
  • In the Indo-Gangetic Plains, a large reduction in wheat yields is projected, unless appropriate cultivars and crop management practices are adopted. A systematic review and meta-analysis of data in 52 original publications projected mean changes in yield by the 2050s across South Asia of 16 per cent for maize and 11 per cent for sorghum. A changing climate was projected to reduce monsoon sorghum grain yield in India by 2-14 per cent by 2020, with worsening yields by 2050 and 2080
  • With rising temperatures, the process of rice development accelerates and reduces the duration for growth. In terms of risks of increasing heat stress, there are parts of Asia where current temperatures are already approaching critical levels during the susceptible stages of the rice plant. These include: Pakistan/North India (October), South India (April, August), East India/Bangladesh (March-June), Myanmar/Thailand/Laos/Cambodia (March-June), Vietnam (April/August), Philippines (April/June), Indonesia (August) and China (July/August)
  • Some groups can become more vulnerable to change after being “locked into” specialised livelihood patterns, as with fish farmers in India
  • Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable Japanese encephalitis in the Himalayan region and malaria in India and Nepal have been linked to rainfall. Contaminated urban flood waters have caused exposure to pathogens and toxic compounds, for example, in India and Pakistan (Sohan et al., 2008; Warraich et al., 2011). Mental disorders and post-traumatic stress syndrome have also been observed in disaster-prone areas (Udomratn, 2008) and, in India, have been linked to age and gender (Telles et al., 2009)
  • Bangladesh and India account for 86 per cent mortality from tropical cyclones, which is mainly due to the rarest and most severe storm categories
  • Malaria prevalence is often influenced by non-climate variability factors, but studies from India and Nepal have found correlations with rainfall
  • India ranked as the most vulnerable of 51 countries in terms of beach erosion, while Cyprus is the least vulnerable in one study which was examined by the IPCC scientists

Survival strategies:
  • By upgrading the drainage system in Mumbai, losses associated with a 1-in-100 year flood event today could be reduced by as much as 70 per cent, and through extending insurance, the indirect effects of flooding could be almost halved, speeding recovery significantly
  • Mitigation measures can also result in public health benefits. Efforts to decarbonise electricity production in India and China that are projected to decrease mortality due to reduced PM5 and PM2.5 particulates; policies to increase public transportation, promote walking and cycling, and reduce private cars that will increase air quality and decrease the health burden, particularly in urban environments as projected in India; and abandoning the use of biomass fuel or coal for indoor cooking and heating to improve indoor air quality and respiratory and cardiac health among, in particular, women and children in India and China.

India disaster report 2012

Managing climate extremes and disasters in Asia: lessons from the IPCC SREX report

Changes in the frequency of different categories of temperature extremes in India

Large-scale wet spell and spatio-temporal rainfall extremes over India during 1951-2007

Changes in extreme rainfall events and flood risk in India during the last century

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