India is grossly unprepared for impending climate change and worsening monsoons

For the first time in its history, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had given a winter forecast for 2016-17 warning that winter temperatures would be higher than usual.

IMD chief KJ Ramesh said, "The winter will be above normal at the country level this year with North India having lesser cold waves." The weather office has hit the nail on the head because temperatures across the sub-continent are already much higher than usual. Mumbai temperature on Tuesday (January 24) was 36 degrees Celsius, six degrees above normal. The situation is no better in the south. Mysore known for its cool winters is already bracing itself for summer with temperatures eight degrees higher than normal. South India has long put the Vardah cyclone behind it with temperatures in some cities touching 38 degrees Celsius.

Pune-based weatherman S Sivananda Pai who heads the Long Range Forecasting Division at the IMD Pune confirmed, "This is indicative of global warming; we expect this winter to be warmer than usual". Pai added, "The frequency of the cold will be less as also the intensity of the cold this winter."

Goverdhan Rathore, former IMD chief and presently working as a consultant with the World Bank, pointed out that the atmospheric settings are such that they do not allow moisture to be picked up from the Arabian Sea. "The snowfall that has occurred in Kashmir and above it is because of the winds picking up moisture from the Mediterranean Sea," he said. Rising temperatures have confirmed that the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 1998. These numbers may appear shocking because global temperature records had in the past been broken by only a few hundredths of a degree.

India is grossly unprepared for impending climate change and worsening monsoons

Representational image. Reuters

Each year is getting hotter than the earlier year. 2014 was the hottest year on record but was overtaken by rising temperatures in 2015. Weathermen then dubbed 2015 as being the hottest year on record and yet they now find that temperatures of 2016 were even warmer than the year before.
James Hansen of the Columbia University Earth Institute believes that 2017 is set to have record higher global temperatures of about 1.25 degree C higher than the 1880-1920 average.

The abnormally high temperatures in 2016 were not restricted to India alone. Temperature spikes are being witnessed across the globe. The USA's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at the data for just one month in April in 2016 has found that the earth's temperature in April was 1.1 degree Celsius higher than the 20th century average for April and 0.28 degree Celsius higher than the previous record in 2010.

Higher temperatures are known to affect precipitation levels and this is being felt across South Asia where rainfall is getting less.

The shape of the future is therefore not difficult to discern. Weather scientists warn that we must learn to cope with a 14 per cent variation in rainfall. Some scientists predict weather variations will result in a 10-20 per cent decrease in the monsoon. The situation is set to get further worsened with the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development have described how 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindukush Himalayan region are shrinking and retreating.

Leading glaciologist, Professor Markus Stoffel at the Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of Berne fears this is a worldwide trend with glacial melting taking place across glaciers located in the Alps and the Andes also. Rising temperatures are also being reflected in the 170 per cent increase in forest fires across India.

The Parliament Standing Committee on Science and Technology headed by the Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary submitted a report in December 2016 expressing apprehension at the exponential increase in fires in both the central Indian forests and the Himalayan region. The report stated that while there were 15,937 forest fires in 2015, the number went up to 24,817 in 2016. Higher temperatures have created a tinder box situation which helped accelerate these fires.

India is poorly equipped to deal with these large shifts in climate. Summing up the present situation, Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharati told Firstpost, "From being a water rich country, we have become a water scarce nation". The vagaries of climate change will only serve to exacerbate the situation.

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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 15:42:46 IST

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