In recent days, my attention has been pretty firmly fixed on Alberta and the Canadian Priaries, due to the flooding that’s been taking place and forced the evacuation of 175,000 people – some of whom I’m related to. However, this morning I learned that other regions of the world, one’s which are far more accustomed to natural disasters, are also being effected, and more severely so.
This story comes from India, where once again, unpredictable weather patterns are causing a mass displacement of human beings. Every year, people living on the subcontinent are forced to deal with torrential rains – monsoons – which lead to overflowing river banks. However, in recent years, the unpredictable nature of these patterns have become a severe source of death, displacement and property damage.
The province of Uttarakhand is home to some of India’s holiest shrines, and is also one of many parts of India where the Ganges river traverses. During the Monsoon’s that come in late summer, flooding is common and even depended on for the sake of farming. Every year, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make the pilgrimage to Uttarakhand during the summer months hoping to get in before the rains begin.
However, this year the monsoon rains arrived early, catching hundreds of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and local residents of guard. Tens of thousands of people remained stranded in high mountain passes and temple towns after the torrential rains washed away homes and roads and triggered landslides that cut off communication links with large parts of the state nearly a week ago.
About 10,000 army and paramilitary troops, members of the disaster management agency and volunteers have taken part in six days of rescue and relief efforts. However, helicopter rescue efforts – which have been an essential part of the rescue effort so far – were suspended when dense fog descended on the Himalayan region this Sunday. Luckily, the army began resorting to building makeshift bridges and people were being rescued by road.
All told, some 80,000 people by road and air, according to a state government spokesman. The exact number of people who died in the heavy downpours and flooding of the Ganges River and its tributaries won’t be known until rescue efforts end. However, the state’s chief minister told reporters late on Saturday that the death toll had reached one-thousand.
The rains in Uttarakhand were said to have been the heaviest in nearly 80 years and more rain is expected in the worst-hit districts of Chamoli and Uttarkashi over the next few days. According to meteorologists, an unusual clash of weather systems from opposite directions is to blame, as the monsoon advancing towards the west of South Asia combined with westerly winds for an unusually long time and with an extraordinary intensity, resulting in days of torrential rains.
And while India is no stranger to floods – over 3 million people were displaced when the Kosi river in Bihar burst its banks in 2008 – this year’s came as a shock due to their sudden appearance and intensity. Not only were the rains were six times more forceful than usual, they came on the heels of one of the weakest monsoon’s in 40 years, which left crops stricken by drought. Still, climate change experts are anything but surprises.
In its fourth assessment report in 2007, the Inter- Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that more extreme droughts, floods, and storms, would become commonplace in the future, and that these intense weather conditions would follow in close succession to each other, often in the same areas. In addition to this latest flood, several other volatile weather patterns predicted by the IPCC are beginning to show in India.
In the northwest alone, the water table is falling by about 1.6 inches per year, according to the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission. At least half of India’s precipitation comes from the annual monsoon rains, and as they become increasingly diminished and unpredictable, the country faces an imminent threat of extreme water shortages.
Changing rainfall patterns aren’t the only climate- change effect threatening India’s water supply: Himalayan glaciers — the source for the many Indian rivers such as the Ganges — are melting at a rapid rate as a result of warmer temperatures. And the Doni river, whose water many consider no longer fit for human consumption, is gaining notoriety for its unpredictable nature — flash floods one day, barely a trickle the next.
This is just another indication of the effects Climate Change is having around the world. In developing regions of the world, especially those that are closer to the equator, rising temperatures mean weather systems that vacillate between drought and heavy rains, which has a devastating effect on agriculture. The combination of dry weather and powerful storms causes topsoil, the lifeblood of farming, to grow dry and then wash away.
What’s more, the majority of humanity lives in this region, which encompasses Central America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and China. And in areas like the Indo-Gangetic Plain – the densely-populated river valley that stretches from Pakistan to northern India – the combination of drought and floods will lead to hundreds of millions of deaths and refugees.
Factor in the number of deaths and displacements caused by rising tides and the effect on coastal regions, and you see why Climate Change experts are so very concerned about the problem. Not only is the environment and our way of life at stake here, our very existence is as well. The best we can hope for right now is that this season of crisis abates so we can get to the crucial work of getting our act together and developing cleaner ways of living.
And will somebody please start deploying those artificial trees and other carbon capture operations!