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    Climate emergency in India: Impact of heatwave on agriculture and inflation

  • Date : 04 June, 2024

     As the temperature reaches over 50°C in Delhi continuously for a few days now, India must wake up to the truth—that we are in the middle of a climate emergency. For it is not only Delhi but other parts of the country that are reporting their highest temperature ever recorded. IMD has already issued severe heat alerts for central and northern India.

    Signs of this heatwave have been clear since March and April. The IMD had warned the nation of a severe heatwave until June; perhaps with the elections in view, they watered down the temperature details. The government took notice and also organised a few meetings on the topic. But what is happening now is unprecedented and could have a lasting impact on humans, as well as our rich biodiversity and agriculture.

    But let’s look at the human losses first. At least 15 people have died due to heat strokes in under 24 hours in the Bihar and Odisha regions. Meanwhile, India has reported 16,000 heat stroke cases and 60 deaths since March 1, 2024. The situation in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and the way up to Telanagana has been worse due to excessive heat. It is adding a heavy health burden to the working people who are working in the sun all day. This includes construction workers, food delivery workers, and farm labourers. All people working under the hot sun are at high risk; these include the millions of MNREGA and political workers.

    The extended periods of heat in cities are getting worse, as the cement jungles heat up pretty quickly and continue to emit heat way after sunset. This increases the load on cooling machines and eventually the power grid. Video surfaced from Allahabad, where the electricity department was using a desert cooler to cool down transformers.

    The case of Allahabad is very peculiar, as it is situated on the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga, yet due to the excessive heat, water consumption has tremendously increased, and now the ground water levels have also rapidly plummeted. Imagine a city with two rivers running dry. What will happen to the rest of our country?

    In the villages, without piped water or water tankers, the situation is turning for the worst, as hand pumps and wells are drying up. While the cattle have fewer places to satisfy their thirst, apart from humans, cattle and farm animals are at major risk from these heatwaves.

    Agriculturally, 50°C is the danger threshold for the current biodiversity and puts vulnerable areas at risk, like the Himalayan ecosystem system. Orchard crops like mangoes, guavas, litchi, etc. will all be deeply impacted by extended periods of high heat. Newer saplings or young plants may be worst hit, especially in rain-fed or water-scarce areas. High heat temperatures in eco-sensitive zones will also trigger faster ice melts and a loss of biodiversity. Once the plants are dead or stunned due to heat, invasive species can move in, or in the worst-case scenario, native species can die forever.

    Many of the commercial varieties of seeds used to grow our food aren’t climate-resilient and are not bred for high temperatures. If this spell continues, we may see a dampened harvest. For example, wheat productions for 2022–23 and 2021–22 were both impacted due to the erratic weather and heatwaves. If this trend increases, very soon our current commercial seeds will be redundant, and breeding new varieties and successfully commercialising them will take a few years at best.

    To top everything off, cyclonic conditions are developing over the Bay of Bengal, like Cyclone Remal befalling Bangladesh and the Sagar Islands in West Bengal recently. The winds were blowing at 110–120 km per hour. This cyclone, like Cyclone Biparjoy, which hit India’s western front last year, had the potential to eat up our Kharif monsoon. Last year, we witnessed droughts in August and October, resulting in heavy agricultural losses. And it also pushed many regions towards drought and flood conditions.

    Simply put, extreme temperatures are adversely affecting all life and threatening our food production. The Indian government ought to declare a state of climate emergency to prevent the loss of lives. Wherever the temperatures reach 50°C, offices, schools, and other activities should be curtailed to a minimum. Essential daily workers should continue, but the local authorities should be empowered to curb other activities if they pose a high health risk. The government must also prepare a working programme for farmers and keep a steady watch on our monsoon. Another failed monsoon may trigger a food inflation hike. A heavier investment is also required in forestation, coastal mangroves, and other nature-based solutions to make our nation and lives more climate-resilient.

    Source: First Post


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Dipali Mahato
Ornamental fishery farmer

Name : Dipali Mahato

Designation : Ornamental fishery farmer

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Designation : President, Shetkari Sanghatana

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Name : Dr O.P. Yadav

Designation : Director, ICAR-Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur

Name : Ravishankar C.N.

Designation : Director, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (ICAR-CIFT)



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