New Delhi: In the year 2023, India recorded extreme weather events on 235 of the 273 days from January 1 to September 30, states the recently released report brought out by Down To Earth (DTE) magazine and the Centre for Science and Environment – Climate India 2023: An assessment of extreme weather events. This means that in 86 per cent of the first nine months of this year, India had an extreme weather event breaking in one or more parts of the country.
The report also stated that the same year, India also experienced record-breaking temperatures for several months, and regions across the country were deluged because of very heavy and extremely heavy rainfall. This led to floods and the loss of life and livestock.
According to the report, the impact and spread of climate change is getting wider. In the year, 2023, climate change affected all 36 states and Union Territories (UTs) compared to 34 last year.
All this highlights the increased frequency and intensity of the extreme events that we are seeing in our rapidly warming world. What the country witnessed in the year 2023 is the new abnormal.
To understand the learnings of the year 2023, the year India saw extreme weather events and know more about the report, team Banega Swasth India speaks with Rajit Sengupta, Associate Editor, Down to Earth, who also authored this newly launched report. Here’s what we discussed:
NDTV: What Is An Extreme Weather Event And Why It Needs An Urgent Discussion?
Rajit Sengupta: Extreme weather events are usually the occurrence of unusually strong or unlikely event triggered by climate change. There are broadly seven types of extreme weather events – landslides, floods, heavy rainfalls, cloudbursts, coldwaves and heatwaves. These are usually small period events. Along with this, we have got climate induced extreme events, one of the classic example is drought, which is usually triggered because of a long period dry spell. Another example is forest fires, which are also triggered by a long period of dry spell, followed by an immediate and very heavy rainfall. Talking about, why climate change discussion is the need of the hour – first, climate change for a very long time has been invisible. And that is one of the reasons why the world took a long time to start discussing about it. The conversation started in about 1970s, 80s. And, we started feeling the pinch around 1990s and early 2000.
So, extreme weather event is basically events that makes climate change visible. These events are the immediate impact of climate change that we can feel. And now extreme weather events are becoming much more frequent and intense. The spread of these events are also becoming higher. A case in point could be Rajasthan, which is traditionally a desert area. But, now that area is also experiencing something called flash floods, which are basically temporary flooding events. And, what is happening is that these events are becoming highly unpredictable, which means, when it normally should happen, it is not happening. And when it shouldn’t, it is happening. And these are the reasons why we need to start talking more and more about climate change now.
NDTV: What are the visible impacts of climate change in the year 2023?
Rajit Sengupta: As a part of our report, we found out that India experienced a lot of extreme weather events for the period from January to September. There are 273 days in this time period and out the 273, some parts of the country was an extreme weather event on 235 days. That is roughly 86 percent of the days between January to September. We also found that all the 36 Indian states and UTs experienced at least one day of extreme weather event in the year 2023. This basically shows that every place in our country is vulnerable. We also found that lightning and storms are the kinds of extreme weather events that are more pronounced in India. It occurred on 176 out of these 273 days. And it led to 711 human deaths. What’s worrisome is the fact that overall these extreme weather events led to almost 3, 000 human deaths for 2023 year.
Heavy rainfall, floods, and landslides that took place on 132 out of the 273 days between January and September led to maximum human loss – about 1, 903 people died because of these events. The third extreme weather event that we looked at was heatwave, which occurred in 49 days in India and led to around 200 loss of human lives.
Also Read: Impact Of Climate Change On Food Security
NDTV: Climate Change – How It Is Affecting The Way We Eat Or Grow Our Food?
Rajit Sengupta: The high incidence of hailstorms during the pre-monsoon period led to food inflation that even led the Indian government impose some forms of restrictions in terms of exports of rice and wheat. What triggers such situations? When there is an increase in hailstorms, a lot of the crops get damage. In India, what happened in 2023, the monsoon period, which is also the main period for growing crops, got delayed. And because of the late onset, the sowing period got shifted by seven to eight days. Then, immediately there were heavy rainfalls, and since the rainfall was not uniform through and through, a lot of small and marginal farmers saw complete washout of their crops and farms. And due to that these farmers were not able to grow crops the entire year. And for these farmers, it is next to impossible to take another loan and then start cropping again. All this impacts immediately India’s output in terms of food. According to our findings, around 1.84 million hectares of crop got damage this year due to extreme weather events. Last year, it was 1. 8 million, so it’s marginally higher. However, if you look at the places where the damages have happened are very different. Last year, a lot of these damages happened down at South. This year, it was predominantly the regions of Punjab and Haryana.
NDTV: The Race Against Climate Change – Are We Doing Enough?
Rajit Sengupta: When we talk about our fight against climate change, there are two things that the world is doing – Climate Mitigation and Climate Adaption.
Climate mitigation is basically how we stop our current emissions, which would in turn impact the future generations and how to restrict the temperature rise beyond 2 and 1.5 degree Celsius.
India is making a lot of strides in this respect. The Indian policies are much more aggressive, our country’s uptake of renewable energy, which will in turn reduce India’s per capita, India’s greenhouse gas emissions substantially in the years to come is there.
Also Read: Five Key Actions For Reducing Food Waste
The second thing is climate adaptation, which means how do we do fight the impacts of climate change or how do we embrace the impacts of climate change. On that front, India has made some good progress. India has substantially improved its early warning systems, we saw during cyclone Bipojoy as well. Moreover, our data shows that only two or three people died because of a cyclone event in India in 2023. That basically means that India is able to preempt a lot of these extreme weather events and also provide immediate rescue operations.
But, there are two places where the country is struggling, which is also true for the rest of the world. One is that once an extreme weather event impacts a region, the data collection in terms of losses and damages is not correct or adequate. Second is reverse development of those particular regions, if they are not developed again properly, then the people living in those areas and that area itself becomes even more vulnerable for the next extreme weather event.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.