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'The Weather Channel argues that India faces the gravest challenge: Climate change-induced health vulnerability.'
'This is an issue often neglected, alerts Claude Arpi: "Prolonged summers, unpredictable rains, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels are the harsh realities of climate change in the country. These factors increase the frequency and severity of illnesses, pushing people into poverty, and forcing migration".'
2023 has ended. It is time for reflection and resolutions: Time to take stock of the past 12 months and to look ahead to the coming year.
There is no doubt for anybody that the world is in turmoil.
Even Xi Jinping, the guarded Chinese president, recently told some 2,300 delegates at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, 'We must be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms.'
Apart from the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza, the environment has been the first casualty of planetary happenings.
There is no doubt that the future is not rosy; a few facts: first far away and then closer to us in India, though all are interlinked as there is only one Planet Earth.
The key findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card are significant: 'Rising temperatures in the Arctic have led to unprecedented wildfires that forced communities to evacuate, a decline in sea ice extent, devastating floods, food insecurity, and a rise in sea level.'
The report mentions that the 2023 summer has been the warmest on record in the Arctic; since 1979, the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the rest of the globe.
Year 2023 was the sixth-warmest year since 1900 in this region, crucial for the wellbeing of the planet.
The report enumerates the probable consequences such as the thawing of subsea permafrost, which is the frozen soil beneath the seabed that contains organic matter.
It could result in food insecurity.
NOAA cites Western Alaska which recorded another year of extremely low numbers of Chinook and chum salmon -- 81% and 92% below the 30-year mean, respectively.
But also raging wildfires; Canada -- where 40% of the land mass belongs to Arctic and Northern regions -- was among the worst affected by wildfires.
Rising temperatures have led to dramatic thinning of the Mendenhall Glacier, also in Alaska; as a result, over the years, the meltaway water has annually caused floods in the region.
Finally, Greenland's ice sheet is melting faster and faster. The NOAA says that the ice sheet continued to lose mass despite above-average winter snow accumulation -- between August 2022 and September 2023, it lost roughly 350 trillion pounds of mass.
Let us not forget that Greenland's ice sheet melting is the second-largest contributor to sea-level rise.
The Hindu Kush
Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which keeps a close watch on the Hindu Kush, predicted that flash floods and avalanches would grow more likely in coming years if greenhouse gases are not sharply reduced: 'Melting of glaciers will cause dangerous flooding and water shortages for nearly 2 billion people who live downstream of rivers that originate in the Himalayas,' says a ICIMOD report.
It adds that glaciers in Asia's Hindu Kush Himalayas are melting at unprecedented rates and could lose up to 75 percent of their volume by century's end.
The environmental organisation warns of 'dangerous flooding and water shortages for the nearly 2 billion people who live downstream of the rivers that originate in the mountainous region.'
Wherever one looks, the future is bleak, though very few politicians the world over are ready to take the issue seriously.
They mostly worship another God called 'development', who, they believe, can bring them more votes during the next elections.
Another report by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI), a network of senior policy experts working with governments, agrees that mountainous regions such as the Himalaya are facing the most severe effects from the climate change.
As the COP28's climate negotiations were getting underway in Dubai, it observed: 'Scientists are calling for more attention to be paid to the region.'
Beyond 2 degree Celsius, Earth will experience 'catastrophic loss' of mountain glaciers and snow, sea ice, and permafrost, notes the report.
ICCI also warns of 'severe consequences for millions -- as well as irreversible damage to glacial areas -- if the global average temperature rise reaches two degrees Celsius ...New developments in cryosphere research have led the report's authors to declare that the Paris Agreement's goal is outdated: 1.5 C (and not 2 C) is the only option.''
The Paris Agreement is an international agreement aimed at limiting global average temperature rise to 'well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.'
Under the Agreement, countries have agreed to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change ...they are supposed to review these commitments every five years.
In India too
It is not that the world leaders have not been warned with hard facts and scientific reports.
In 2023, Northern Sikkim experienced a severe Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF); the South Lhonak Lake, a lake located at an altitude of 17,000 feet suffered a rupture as a result of continuous rainfall.
Consequently, water gushed into the downstream regions, causing flooding in the Teesta River, in turn severely impacting Northern Sikkim.
The Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority (SSDMA) said that it caused the Chungthang hydro-dam in Sikkim (on Teesta river) to breach, resulting in a large number of casualties.
A scientific report published in January 2023 by Nature explained: 'Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) represent a major hazard and can result in significant loss of life. Globally, since 1990, the number and size of glacial lakes has grown rapidly along with downstream population, while socio-economic vulnerability has decreased.
'Nevertheless, contemporary exposure and vulnerability to GLOFs at the global scale has never been quantified. ...15 million people globally are exposed to impacts from potential GLOFs.
'Populations in High Mountains Asia (HMA) are the most exposed and on average live closest to glacial lakes with about 1 million people living within 10 km of a glacial lake.'
The Weather Channel, an American pay television channel based in Atlanta, argues that India faces the gravest challenge: Climate change-induced health vulnerability.
This is an issue often neglected: 'Prolonged summers, unpredictable rains, floods, droughts, and rising sea levels are the harsh realities of climate change in the country. These factors increase the frequency and severity of illnesses, pushing people into poverty, and forcing migration.'
And this without even mentioning the pollution in the big cities, which will in a long term, be responsible for millions of casualties.
For this too, politicians are good to shift the blame on the neighbourhood states or individuals.
The Weather Channel quotes from a new study published in Climatic Change, using 50 indicators across 640 Indian districts, researchers mapped exposure, sensitivity to the hot weather and adaptive capacities (ACs) to gauge health vulnerability.
The authors identified 38 districts with very high vulnerability, 306 with high vulnerability, 278 with moderate vulnerability, and 18 with low vulnerability.
States with the highest number of vulnerable districts include Uttar Pradesh (37), Rajasthan (15), and Madhya Pradesh (3).
The report concluded: 'India's climate crisis demands a radical shift in development thinking. The old models cannot protect millions facing health risks like never before.'
We could multiply the examples, but it is obvious that the future of the planet is bleak.
Year 2024 will probably witness more natural disasters, calamities, tragedies, either man-made such as the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand which caved in, while under construction, simply because proper environmental studies had not been conducted.
One could also cite the case of Joshimath, hit by a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence, resulting in gradual sinking of the surface due to the removal of water, oil, natural gas, or mineral resources from the ground; or the devastation in Mandi-Kulu-Manali area of Himachal Pradesh due to heavy rains and wild construction for tourism.
This will continue as long as men continue to worship only one God, 'Development' and forget to bow down another God (or Godess), Mother Nature.
But it is probably too difficult to understand for politicians who have other purposes in life; however unless Mother Nature is also on our Altar, the future will remain bleak.
Nations need to be ruled by a Diarchy, with Environment and Development together giving a lead to the planet.
If the latter is privileged, there will be a backlash by the former, with the dire consequences for us, human beings.
A last prediction: The Himalayas could witness serious earthquakes in 2024. Let us hope that it does not take place.