Kerala Floods A Man-Made Disaster, Say Scientists

Deforestation
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Given the past extreme weather events in India, the risk and possibility of climate change is evident. However, we are still continuing with deforestation, polluting our environment, contaminating our river bodies and destroying every inch of the earth. The losses have been manifold and nothing much has been done to handle the unforeseen incidents.

While the experts and citizens we spoke earlier did mention that a major contribution for the cause of these natural calamities goes to us and very less is left to replenish.

Hence, to get the first hand views of the scientist who does an in-depth research in this area, we spoke to Dr. Ashwini Kulkarni, Scientist, Monsoon Variability and Teleconnections at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology who gave some eye-opening and rather scary replies to some of our concerns.

“Climate change plays a major role in changing frequency and intensity of extreme events. Many studies have shown that as an effect of climate change we may have to face more frequent and more intense extreme rain events,” said Dr Kulkarni.

“A study on extreme rain events over Central India during 1950-2015 says that they happen three times as frequently in recent times as they did in the 1950’s. Although no single flood can be linked directly to climate change, climate model simulations show that warmer world atmosphere will hold more water, which will result in more intense and extreme rain events,” she added.

Speaking about their observations about the Kerala floods, she said, “Kerala is among the states that receive the highest monsoon rainfall, but sustained low pressure conditions over India’s western coast this year have caused the flooding in the state.

The highest-ever August rainfall in Kerala was in 1931 (1132 mm).

The main reasons for floods have been assessed as high-intensity rainfall in short duration, poor or inadequate drainage capacity, unplanned reservoir regulation and failure of flood control structures.

2017 happened to be one of the three warmest years in last 150 years.

“This August is a record rainfall in the last one and a half century. However, it can also be attributed as a man-made disaster. Proper management would have reduced the intensity of the disaster.

“The water from intense rainfall would normally be slowed down by trees or other natural obstacles. Over the past 40 years, Kerala has lost nearly half its forest cover. So the less rainfall is being intercepted, and more water is rapidly running into overflowing streams and rivers, opening of the gates of the dams at right time at typical water level would have reduced the intensity of disaster. Also not all the gates should have been opened at a time.

As shown by the Gadgil Committee (2011), there are highest number of vulnerable zones in Kerala over the ecologically fragile region of the Western Ghat.

“This is definitely a man-made calamity where intense rainfall and human intervention have made it a serious disaster (Prof Madhav Gadgil).”

She further added that in comparison to past events, the number of natural disasters has increased. “Many studies have shown that the extreme events have been increasing. Along with the changing climate, human interventions also play a vital role in these natural disasters.

In the last century, the extreme rain events show an increase of 6% per decade. The main reason is the rate at which the earth is warming. Every year happens to be warmer than the previous one.

“The warmer atmosphere contains more moisture which causes heavy rain events. Deforestation, badly-executed urbanisation, destruction of catchment areas, forests etc. which contribute to global warming may lead to more disastrous situations in the future.”

When asked if more such events can occur in India with even more severe impact, she said, “Yes, the Government of India (MoEF&CC, MoES and DST) have conducted the survey of climate change in India and completed the task of assessing the impact on the Indian climate through various national and bilateral programmes such as India’s Initial National Communication to the UNFCCC (NATCOM – I and II, NATCOM – III is in process).

“Also MOEF&CC initiated India Network on Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) to assess the impact of changing climate over four sensitive regions (Western Ghats, Himalayan region, Coastal India and North-East) in four vulnerable sectors (agriculture, water,forests and human health). In this programme, the climate change profiles over India in near future 2030s have been described, using the high resolution regional model and the possible impacts on different vulnerable sectors have been discussed.

MOEF with UNDP have also encouraged all the states to prepare a State Action Plan on Climate Change under the National Mission on Climate Change,” she added.

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Loveleen Kaur

Loveleen Kaur

She loves travelling, dogs, sarcasm, humour and anything that spells F O O D, in that order. A writer on a journey to make positive stories a morning ritual and give society what it needs the most - optimism !!

Reach her at loveleen@pune365.com or tweet @KaurKaur18
Loveleen Kaur

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