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Flood fury: Climate change denial won’t help

The Financial Express
But, saying that the floods have nothing to do with climate change, as environment minister Prakash Javadekar has done, is nothing short of climate denialism. (File photo)

The floods in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra were, without doubt, aggravated by short-sighted development that ignored the consequence of exploiting the Western Ghats in the manner this has happened and the poor urban planning that followed. But, saying that the floods have nothing to do with climate change, as environment minister Prakash Javadekar has done, is nothing short of climate denialism. In fact, it flies in the face of research on climate change impact on rainfall in the region.

Twenty-one of the 27 studies published in the 6th edition of the Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective-a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society-that was published in December 2017 state that extreme weather events have strong links to long-term anthropogenic climate change. The devastating floods in Uttarakhand (2013), Kashmir (2014), Gujarat (2017), Kerala (2018), and in Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka this year would all qualify as extreme weather events. In fact, the rainfall recorded on August 13 in Kerala was 70% above the normal, and that in Karnataka and Maharashtra, over June 1-August 16, was 20% and 31% above normal. But, more importantly, the precipitation in Kerala over August 8-14 was a whopping 387% above the normal while in Karnataka, it was 176% above the normal for that period. This clearly shows these states that are seeing some of the worst floods in their respective histories have been brought to their knees by cloudbursts.

Now, research published in the Indian Meteorological Society's journal, Vayu Mandal, analysed rainfall data from 1871 to 2011 to find that the contribution of the southwest monsoon in the rainfall that Kerala receives has declined but there is a trend of increased pre- and post-monsoon rainfall in the recent decades.

The fact is climate change is making extreme and erratic monsoon the new normal for India. Flood-drought cycles are becoming common. Between June 1 and August 14, 25 districts in the country had large deficit of rainfall over the normal for that period while 237 recorded deficit. On the other hand, 38 recorded a large excess over the period compared to the normal while 100 experienced rainfall in excess, as per India Meteorological Department's classification. This, and excessive rainfall in an area over a short period are clearly signs of climate-change impact on the southwest monsoons. A committee of experts that studied the heavy floods in Gujarat in 2017 found that the Dhanera region in the state had received twice the seasonal normal in just two days. Vimal Mishra, of IIT Gandhinagar, had found that such extremes are expected to increase, and one-to-five day extreme rains-at levels found once in a half-millenium-can increase by 20-30% if global warming continues as usual. Inadequate storage and drainage in cities and assault on flood plains exacerbate the effects of a deluge occurring due to climate change.

As The Economic Times reports, The Council on Energy, Environment and Water estimates that if emissions continue to be high, the probability of once-in-a-century flood for a city like Kolkata would increase by 1,000 times by 2050. IMD data shows that between 1951 and 2010, the annual and seasonal mean temperatures in the all six of the states of the Western Ghats-Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala-had increased significantly, and all these states have ignored the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil committee on the conservation of the Ghats.

As per a 2017 study, India had the second-largest number of deaths linked to extreme weather events-floods, heatwaves, etc. A paper published in Nature Climate Change estimates upto 60,000 extra deaths annually by 2030-and 260,000 by 2100-if climate change continues unabated. South Asia will be the worst hit region by the end of the century. Ostrich-like evasion on climate change-worse, climate change denialism-is not going to help. The government, and the green ministry, must get its act together if mitigation steps are to be taken with an eye on avoiding the disasters that are becoming increasingly frequent in these states.