Walking towards the Catastrophe: The Indian Scenario

New Delhi: The year 2100 is still 79 years away. Too far? Think of the children around you. Many of them will be alive then. But what will be the shape of India in those days when they will grow old?

By then sea water will rise enough to inundate, if a prediction of NASA comes true,  entire southern part of Bengal (along with Bangladesh), and the water will come up to Khidirpur, the dock area of Kolkata port, which is about hundred kilometres north of Sagar island where Gangasagar Mela is held every year.

Though Bengal is the most vulnerable to rising sea water related devastations, other coastal areas of India too will face a sort of debacle. Paradwip of Odisha, Visakhapatnam of Andhra, Chennai and Tutikorin of Tamil Nadu, Kochi of Kerala, Mengaluru of Karnataka, Marmagaon of Goa, Mumbai of Maharashtra, and Bhavnagar and Kandla of Gujarat will go under water. In other words, the entire coastline will be devoured by the sea. The water in these places may not cover a hundred kilometres like in Bengal, but at least ten kilometres in safer areas and more in other parts of the coast.

Nasa’s projection is based on Intergovernment Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) that has released a 4,000-page document on data to describe what is happening to the Earth climate, and what the future will be like. Apart from rise of sea water, it has also predicted more intense and frequent heat-waves, and prolonged droughts on one hand, and on the other melting of glaciers and increased incidents of extreme rainfall.  It says in another 20 years global temperature may go up by 1.5 degrees, thus touching the threshold of danger limit identified by Paris climate meet.

Are we not seeing the beginning of the doom now? Consider these examples: After the cyclone earlier this year, a vast area of South 24 Parganas and adjacent areas in Bengal got flooded by sea water coming through various channels; in recent days landslides have been reported from various states including Maharashtra; the US and Canada suffered tremendous heat wave this year while Germany and China experienced devastating floods, and almost unprecedented wildfire ravaged Siberia, Turkey and Greece.

Let us set aside the world, and concentrate on India. What will be the impact of such changes that has already showed first signs of setting in over the decades? Well, if the Monsoon goes erratic as has been predicted, and along with that heat waves and droughts burn a large part while another swathe of land is flooded due to sudden heavy downpours and rivers carrying more water due to melting of glaciers, it is easy guess that agricultural production will take a major hit. That will cause food scarcity in the country were the population is still growing fast now, and is expected to slow down in a significant way only after a few decades.

We have not seen any major governmental intervention, either by the centre, or by the states, to fight the crisis.

Bengal will be the most affected state in India as the hungry tides of the rising sea have already started laying claims on the land of southern Bengal. A report by the National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Ministry of Earth Sciences, said that West Bengal has recorded the maximum coastal erosion of 63 per cent. Comparatively, it is only 45 per cent for Kerala, and 41 per cent for Tamil Nadu. The level of coastal erosion is lower for the other coastal states

The impact is evident in bear eyes also. Thirty years ago, the coastal tourist town of Digha had a stretch of natural beach. That is gone now, and the town, like other coastal attractions of Bengal, survive thanks to boulders and guard walls built along the coastline. On the nights of bhara kotal (extreme high tide) that appears twice a month, the sea breaches this guard wall, pushing the water into the land even up to a couple of kilometres at places. During Cyclone Yaas the water inundates a vast area of the coast.

Come to the Sunderbans. Now, during the low tide, the sea water recedes from most of the area covered by Mangrove jungles. But a few decades later, a vast area of the forest, which has shrunk to about 5 thousand square kilometres, will remain perennially inundated. The Bengal Tiger will go extinct, and as the salinity of nearby areas will increase, the mangrove forest will start advancing northwards (both in India and Bangladesh). Consequently, a vast region to the north of the Sunderbans will lay waste as the soil will have a level of salinity that would allow only mangrove trees to grow.

According to research organisations that has conducted studies on salinity in the rivers of south Bengal, and the list includes the Central Pollution Control Board, Central Inland Capture Fisheries Research Institute, Jadavpur University’s Oceanographic Studies and the Department of Urban Welfare of the state government, the salinity level has increased even 150 km upstream of the estuary. The salinity level at Uluberia, a town on the west bank of the Ganga and 110 km north of the Sagar Island, has increased from 0.028 ppt in 1985 to 0.132 ppt in 2013. It is increasing day by day, and mangrove trees have been noticed along the banks of Ganga up to Kolkata, which is hundred kilometres north of the sea.

All these are grim reminders of the fact that we are walking towards a catastrophe. The fight against global warming is of course global, but India too needs to agree to a net-zero target (i.e. bring down its emission to a level that can be absorbed by its forests and other carbon sinks). The successive governments have argued that it is not possible to do so as it will slow down the process of industrialisation, consequentially damaging the goal of poverty alleviation. While this is true, it is also true that environmental disaster too will affect in future millions and millions of lives.

It is also time to make state governments aware of the situation, particularly West Bengal. Otherwise we will lose most important years of climate-proofing to adopt us with the situation. – India News Stream

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