Why 2019 Floods May Just be the Beginning of Greater Damages

The world just survived its hottest ever July on Earth and it is predicted that 2019 may be the second hottest year on earth after 2016.

In India, July was preceded by a long dry spell due to the absence of any pre-monsoon showers, causing a drought-like situation in several parts of the country. Now many states are battling severe flood. Last week, in a single day, the total rainfall in the state of Karnataka was five times more than the normal.

Rainfall in many parts of the state of Karnataka was 10 to 20 times higher than the long-term average of the day. Down to Earth magazine reported that Mysuru received 32 times higher rainfall, which was equivalent to more than 3,000%, the long-term average of day. Till Saturday massive flood had killed 24 people and ruined property worth more than 6,000 crore in the state.

Like Karnataka, many parts of Maharashtra also drowned in the floods. Down south, the woes of Kerala were compounded by the landslides triggered by heavy downpour. In north’s Bihar, the water has receded in major flood-affected parts, but it claimed more than 125 lives and devastated crops worth several hundred thousand rupees. It is important to note that before the floods hit Bihar, extreme heat waves had killed around 200 people in the state.

Expert see global warming as a definite reason behind such an extreme and unpredictable pattern of changing weather.

“We are seeing the change in our monsoon. More extreme. More variable. Clearly, we are impacted (by climate change).” says Sunita Narain, Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report ‘Climate Change and Land’, released last Wednesday, throws light on desertification, land degradation and food security vis-a-vis climate change. The report warns against the growing impact of climate change and says the ecosystems earlier were never under such severe threat as they are today. It says that the climate crisis is reducing the ability of the land to sustain the growing population.

The report warns that climate change may cause food supply instability and prices may shoot up beyond control. It projects a 23% rise in the price of cereals by 2050.

However, changing the crop pattern and food consumption habits may be helpful. As industrial food production at large scale consumes too much energy (since it requires an enormous amount of water and feed for cattle rearing and also uses electricity for commercial production of meat), certain crops like paddy demand too much water to grow it.

“The IPCC report on land use shows that the current impact of climate change cannot be solved by a silver bullet. As much as countries need to decarbonize and switch to renewables, they are also required to undertake reforms in agriculture and farming, and prevent the land from becoming a source of emissions, which is a possibility if left unchecked,” says Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

India’s geography and dependence on monsoon for agriculture makes it more vulnerable towards the impact of climate change. With a 7,500-kilometre coastline, more than 10,000 big and small glaciers in the Himalayan region and different agro-climatic zones, India is highly sensitive to global warming.

In such a scenario, the degradation of land becomes another big problem. The IPCC report says that 23% of the world’s geographic area is degraded. In India, 30% of the land is affected by degradation due to multiple reasons, including deforestation. Besides, more than 50% of India’s agriculture still remains rain-fed and any fluctuation, delay or advancement of monsoon critically affects the productivity.

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