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Rising to the call of climate change

Rising to the call of climate change
Climate change is real, a thing of the present, and extreme weather events have started to hurt the world around. India is in the grip of climate change too.

Cyclone Phalin in 2013 alone led to a loss of more than Rs. 20,000 crore. Cyclone Hudhud in 2014 is estimated to have caused damages of about Rs 1,00,000 crore, besides the 2014 Jammu & Kashmir floods.  The government of India estimates that expenditure on adaptation to climate variability exceeds 2.6 percent of the GDP or about Rs 300,000 crore.  These costs will only rise with increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

In this dismal scenario, there are stories of change - adaptation and response. Rising to the Call is a collection of some of these inspiring stories of change. We hope that it will inspire governments, policy-makers, legislators, media persons and others to take note of the resilience of individuals, communities and agencies that spearheaded this change. Such an influence, we believe, can lead the change in their spheres of influence. 

Some stories of successful adaptation presented in rising to the call 
Lac gets a new life: Lac is a scarlet resin secreted by an insect that lives on trees. It is used as a natural dye in textiles, food and cosmetic industries.  Jharkhand is one of the largest producers of <g data-gr-id="83">lac</g> but had been witnessing a decline in its production due to rising temperatures. In a bid to arrest the decreasing production of Lac, scientists at the Indian Institute of Natural Resins and Gums (IINRG) in Ranchi zeroed in on the new host plant, the Semialata. 

This host plant grows faster and better adapted to changing climate conditions. IINRG scientists have also added a few modern farming techniques that ensure better production on Semialata plants, thereby increasing the farmers’ profits.

Paddy dilemma: For many years, the water table in Punjab had been falling due to rice cultivation. Already at breaking point, Punjab’s water resources were being further stretched on account of varying weather conditions – lower number of rainy days, heavier precipitation, higher run-off and insufficient recharge of the water tables.

The common practice was to sow early well before the rain–and use only groundwater for irrigation. In 2008, after heated arguments and a long-drawn legislation process, the state government passed an ordinance that set dates for sowing and transplantation of paddy. The order was implemented, and as a result, dependence on ground water reduced leading to improvement in the water table.

Dormant to green: Village Biphur in Tonk district of Rajasthan was a typical water-scarce village that was facing increased frequency of droughts and inadequate water for drinking and agriculture in recent years.  A local NGO responded by introducing a water-harvesting strategy. As part of the plan, wells were deepened and measures taken to increase absorption and recharge of ground water. The boundary walls of fields were raised, helping better absorption of water and stopping the erosion of the fertile top soil. Feeder channels were dug to divert the water into a village pond that acted as a recharge point and provided water for livestock. These and other measures brought about a transformation in the village and seasonal migration rates came down drastically.

However, India remains prone to extreme climatic conditions
India’s extreme vulnerability to climate change will have a direct impact on the health of its population, experts said at a seminar on Friday. The World Health Organization has predicted in a report that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths.

The Himalayan region is prone to vector-borne diseases, especially malaria and dengue, Ramesh Dhiman of the National Institute of Malaria Research, said at a seminar on “Climate Change and Health Risks”. The event was organised by the French embassy in association with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Another major problem that India will have to deal with is the prevalence of heatwaves. According to Dileep Mavalankar, Director of the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, “Heat stress is an understudied area of climate change.”

He cited the instance of slum dwellers and construction site workers, who are not aware of the dangers of heat, adding that strengthening the information network to fight heatwave is important.
India will witness a temperature rise of about 2-4 degrees Celsius by 2030. A good weather prediction system can go a long way to raising public awareness, Mavalankar added.

B N Satpathy, consultant, NITI Aayog, warned that the nine coastal states in India were highly vulnerable to climate change. “State governments have not yet come up with a plan to tackle sea-level rise,” he added. He cited the example of Kovalam where houses reported water seepage.
Admitting that the country has a huge “health burden”, he said low-carbon economic growth path was the need of the hour. Also, during the past 50 years no one thought that “high growth rate will ultimately kill you”.

Better implementation of policies
The first National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was released in 2008, outlining eight core national missions running through 2017. Four out of eight missions related to habitat, water, Himalayan ecosystems and agriculture have adaptation as a central focus during the mission on 

“Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change” equally deals with mitigation. Unsurprisingly, the progress made so far on these missions remains slow and uneven. Similarly, little efforts have been made to coordinate with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to build on the growing work on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). India has made substantive progress in this area and is widely recognized for its early warning systems, evacuation and relief efforts.

DRR forms the basis to scale up adaptation by enhancing the capacity of the local communities, particularly women, who are at the frontline of the climate impacts. Therefore, it is vital that adaptation INDC integrates and harmonises with the programmes undertaken by different ministries and sectors, and global processes such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the newly agreed Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) targets.

To put it into context, all the existing programmes and campaigns—Make in India, More crops per drop, Soil Health Card, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Programme, National Rural Health Mission, Right to Education—need to incorporate features to reduce future disaster risk. In the same vein, risk management measures have to be holistic and must provide social protection for all citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable, to address climate change-induced loss and damage, including several irreversible impacts. 

DOWN TO EARTH
(The author is a Climate Change Programme Manager at Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. Additional inputs from Down to Earth. The views expressed are personal)
Arjuna Srinidhi

Arjuna Srinidhi

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