Waking up to climate change

Waking up to climate change
Highlights

Waking Up To Climate Change. Ramanjareyulu, a 55-year-old farmer from Andhra Pradesh, has been struggling to find his feet ever since inadequate rainfall dealt a blow to his harvest of groundnut and red gram.

Ramanjareyulu, a 55-year-old farmer from Andhra Pradesh, has been struggling to find his feet ever since inadequate rainfall dealt a blow to his harvest of groundnut and red gram (a pulse crop that grows primarily in India).

A man who once sustained his family of five off his small patch of farmland, Ramanjareyulu now finds himself in abject poverty and is considering joining a massive exodus of farmers heading for the big cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad in the hope of finding work as unskilled labourers.

“I don’t know why nature is so unkind to us,” the desperate farmer said.

Dr Y V Malla Reddy, director of the Bengaluru-based Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre, which works with farmers in the region, has the answer to that question and is quick to articulate it: climate change.

“The farmers are now living in dire straits,” he said.

“Of the nearly 700,000 farmers in Anantapur [the largest district in Andhra Pradesh], 5,00,000 are in this situation due to a drastic reduction in the number of rainy days per year.” All across India, similar warning signs indicate that the country is on a dangerous trajectory. From the disappearing Sundarbans (the largest single bloc of mangrove forest in the world situated in the Bay of Bengal), to the vast tracts of parched farmland in southern, western and northern India, to the plight of all those caught in the disaster-struck Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, extreme weather is taking its toll.

With carbon emissions increasing by 7.7 per cent in 2012 – and CO2 emissions from coal plants shooting up by 10.2 per cent that same year – the country seems to be contributing towards its own demise. And the “worst is yet to come”, according to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found that the highly fertile Indo-Gangetic plains are under threat of a significant reduction in wheat yields.

Currently the area produces 90 million tonnes of grain annually, accounting for nearly 15 per cent of global wheat production, but projections indicate a nearly 51 percent decrease in the highest yielding areas due to hotter temperatures.

Such a scenario could be disastrous for the roughly 200 million residents of the plains, whose food intake is dependent on harvests, experts say.

India is also one of the 27 countries that are “most vulnerable” to sea level rise caused by global warming. According to the Geological Survey of India, a one-metre rise in sea level is expected to inundate about 1,000 square kilometres of the Sundarbans delta.

Nearly half of the 102 islands that comprise the UN-protected biosphere reserve have become uninhabitable due to rising seas and coastal erosion over the last four decades. About a fifth of the southern part of this delta complex, the heart of a major tiger reserve, is already submerged. At the current rate of erosion, scientists are predicting a loss of 15 percent of farmlands and a further 250 square km of the national park. Increased soil salinity has resulted in miserable agricultural yields and thousands of climate refugees.

Another major red flag for India was last year’s Uttarakhand tragedy, when cloudbursts and glacial leaks caused a flash flood that swept away thousands of pilgrims and tourists in the northern state in what scientists called a ‘Himalayan tsunami’.

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