The Need to Act
Kartikeya V. Sarabhai
While Climate Change is a global phenomenon, arid
and semi-arid zones and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to
climate change. Gujarat has semi-arid zones and a long coastline.
Agriculture, coastal areas, biodiversity, human health and overall
development is at stake. Scientists say that because of rising global
temperatures, the already fickle weather could become more
unpredictable. Western India is expected to receive higher than normal
rainfall as temperatures soar. This change in the amount of rainfall
and shifts in the timing will adversely affect agriculture all over
the State. Agriculture in coastal states will be worst affected where
agricultural land is susceptible to inundation and salinity. Also, the
standing crops in these regions are likely to be damaged by frequent
cyclones. The changes in soil moisture content, pests and weeds
brought by climate change will affect the crops. We are already seeing
the phenomena of extreme weather. Torrential rains and floods have
destroyed crops in a way that was unknown in the past. Suicides by
farmers whose cotton crops are destroyed by knee-deep water were
unheard of in our State.
It is observed that in arid regions including
Gujarat, malaria epidemics have often followed excessive rainfall. The
high temperatures of summer provide favorable breeding conditions for
disease causing vectors and the heavy rains that follow causes
flooding and subsequently waterborne diseases. The health implications
of climate change will need to be carefully monitored.
Another result of increasing temperature is the
melting of polar ice caps which results in a rise in sea-level and
subsequent flooding of coastal areas. Flooding of low lying coastal
belts will cause damage to coastal infrastructure and property and
will displace large numbers of people. Increased percolation of
saltwater will affect the groundwater and thereby decrease the already
strained freshwater supply. India’s Northern river system which is
connected to the Himalayan glaciers will be badly hit. Rural
communities of the Gangetic plains and deltas will be more vulnerable
to floods. With a continuing increase in global temperatures and
melting of glaciers, these rivers will during the first half of the
century witness an increase in water flow followed by dropping water
levels. Collapse of these river systems will result in tremendous
pressure on the Indian economy and affect the whole of India.
The Gulf of Kachchh is home to unique coral
reefs. 30% of the corals are estimated to have already bleached as a
result of seawater warming. Corals are highly sensitive to sea water
temperature and salinity. Global warming will increase the sea
temperatures and the higher evaporation rate will increase the
salinity of water. This along with unplanned development along the
coast will cause further degeneration of this unique ecosystem.
Gujarat is also home to some of the endangered species of flora and
fauna. The salt marshes and mudflats of Rann of Kachchh house the
largest breeding colony of the Greater Flamingo and the habitat for
the Lesser Florican and the Indian Wild Ass. The rising sea levels
will likely cause the submergence of these mudflats.
Gujarat has set ambitious development targets for
itself. We are rapidly expanding our energy production and
consumption. We both contribute to and are especially vulnerable to
the impacts of climate change. The challenge is not unique to us, it
is indeed global. As the UNDP report states “no issue merits urgent
attention – or more immediate action. Climate change is the defining
human development issue of our generation.” Gujarat in its development
strategy can show leadership. Older development strategies are flawed.
But we need not be imitative. We can lead and show the world what can
be done. How one can achieve rapid economic and human development
growth consistent with our longer term security and sustainability.
This is the need of the hour. We have the intellectual strength and
given our resolve, we can achieve this by effective mitigation and