This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard India Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the largest public crisis in living memory, 2021 has been marred by another global catastrophe – extreme weather events and climate catastrophes.
India has been no exception to the unfolding extreme weather. Swathes of India are simultaneously battling deadly floods and landslides after heavy monsoon rains, just the latest example of how the vast country is on the frontline of climate change. In the first eight months of 2021 alone, approximately 1.3 billion people have experienced two devastating cyclones, a deadly glacier collapse in the Himalayas, a sweltering heat wave condition, and killer floods which have caused immense damage and harm to vulnerable communities.
In February, a ferocious flash flood hurtled down a remote Indian Himalayan valley, sweeping away homes, including a hydro plant, and around 200 people. Only 60 bodies were recovered due to the ferocity of the weather event. Experts believe the cause was a massive chunk of glacier — 15 football fields long and five across — breaking off high in the mountains.
In the Indian Himalayas, 10,000 glaciers are reportedly receding at a rate of 30 to 60 metres (100 to 200 feet) per decade due to steep global temperatures rise. In 2013, a flash flood in the same area mercilessly killed 6,000 people.
Cyclones are not a rare sight in the northern Indian Ocean but they are now becoming more frequent and severe as sea temperatures rise. In May, Cyclone Tauktae claimed 155 lives in western India including dozens working on oil rigs off Mumbai. It was the fiercest storm to hit the area in several decades.
Barely a week later a cyclone named Yaas, with winds equivalent of a category-two hurricane, killed at least nine people and forced the evacuation of more than 1.5 million in the east. With waves the height of double-decker buses, hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes
Extreme Heat-Wave Conditions
India’s average temperature rose around 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) between the beginning of the 20th century and 2018. It is expected to further rise another 4.4 degrees by 2100, according to a recent government report. In early July, tens of millions of people sizzled in just the latest heat wave conditions across northern India.
India’s weather department has declared a heat wave almost every year in the last decade with temperatures sometimes reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also estimated that heat wave conditions have claimed more than 17,000 lives in India since 1971, according to meteorological data. Currently just 5% of Indian households have air conditioning (compared to 90% in the United States and 60% in China). But the market is forecast to boom in the coming years, driving up energy consumption in what is already the world’s third-largest carbon emitter.
Torrential rains also hit India’s western coast triggering major landslides and a deluge of sludge, leaving more than 75 dead and dozens missing. The hillside resort of Mahabaleshwar reportedly saw nearly 60 centimetres (23 inches) of rain in a 24-hour period; such levels are record-high.
The neighboring resort state of Goa is also reeling under its worst floods in decades, while Delhi, the nation’s capital, has been flooded due to heavy torrential rains causing immense damage to the airport and other utilities and services. Flooding and landslides are usually common during India’s treacherous monsoon season, which also often sees poorly constructed buildings buckle after days of non-stop rain, causing harm and hurt to dwellers including collateral loss.
“For instance, across six Indian port cities – Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Surat and Visakhapatnam – 28.6 million people could be exposed to coastal flooding, if sea levels rise by 50 centimetres and the assets exposed to flooding will be worth about USD 4 trillion”, IPCC Report, 2021 (https://india.mongabay.com/2021/08/ipcc-report-warns-india-likely-to-see-more-extreme-weather-events/).
The monsoon from June to September in the country also brings danger from the skies. In 2019 alone lightning strikes killed more than 3,000 people.
Earlier in the month, 76 people perished including a dozen watching a storm and taking selfies at a historic fort in sub-region of Rajasthan, located approximately 300 kilometres from the national capital of Delhi. Scientists say climate change may be making lightning more frequent while a recent study said strikes rose 34% in the past year.
People are not the only victims of increasing climate catastrophes. In May, lightning was responsible for the deaths of at least 18 elephants in Assam, a sub-region located in the north eastern part of India rich in biodiversity famous for its animal habits—predominantly special rhinos and elephants.
India’s Preparedness for Disasters: Inter-Agency and Multi-Modal
India took early lessons from a once-in-a-history tsunami that disastrously hit southern part of India in 2004, causing immense loss of lives and wide spread collateral damage. In the following year, India set up the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) directly under the nation’s Prime Minister, thus creating an enabling environment for institutional mechanisms at sub-region and district levels.
This authority, as a first responder, has been at the fore front of climate adaptation, natural disasters, and many other extreme weather conditions.
It has played a pivotal role in mitigating climate risks as well as providing large scale emergency evacuations of the affected and vulnerable. India is currently fully equipped to undertake large scale and complex disaster management and mitigation endeavors while offering expertise to friendly countries.
Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:
Rating: **** Outstanding
Four Stars (****): Outstanding
Three stars (***): Good
Two stars (**): Fair
One star (*): Unprepared
Mr. Sanjeeva Kumar, Member Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority,