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Nearly 90% of Jan-Sept days saw extreme weather events in some part of India, says new report

According to Center for Science and Environment report, extreme weather events killed 2,755 humans & 70,000 livestock, affected 1.8 million hectares of crop area & destroyed over 416,667 houses.

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New Delhi: India suffered 241 extreme weather events in the first nine months of the year, translating to nearly one extreme weather event a day, according to a new report by the Center for Science and Environment, released Tuesday. The report was accompanied by the launch of an “atlas” on weather disasters.

Analysing the occurrence of extreme weather events as defined by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the report found that “close to 90 per cent” of the days between 1 January and 30 September “had an extreme weather event breaking in one or more parts of the country”.

These events have claimed 2,755 human lives, affected 1.8 million hectares (ha) of crop area, destroyed over 416,667 houses, and killed close to 70,000 livestock, according to the report, which added that these numbers are “probably an underestimate”.

The report shared the IMD’s categorisation of extreme weather events, which included extreme heat waves, cyclones, snowfall, lightning and storms, cold waves and cold days, heavy rains, floods and landslides.

Among casualties caused by extreme weather events, heavy rains, landslides and flooding were responsible for a majority of human deaths — 1,214 — followed by lightning and storms at 954.

“While a realistic estimate can be made about the number of days the country recorded extreme weather events from IMD releases, major gaps remain when it comes to loss and damage assessment. The Disaster Management Division provides data as received by the states and this is mainly for the monsoon season. It does not include all extreme events as defined by IMD,” Rajit Sengupta, who has co-authored the report, told ThePrint.

Sengupta added the digital “atlas”, with data about extreme weather events, would be updated every month.

The report found that Madhya Pradesh experienced the highest number of days with extreme weather events (140), while Himachal Pradesh saw the highest number of human deaths from extreme weather events, at 359 deaths. Madhya Pradesh and Assam saw 301 human deaths each, the second-highest.

Scientists have proven that climate change is causing an increased number of cyclones and heat waves, as well as changing patterns of precipitation in India.

The CSE’s findings come at a time when low and middle-income countries across the world are demanding their high-income counterparts pay for the losses and damages arising from climate change — a topic that is likely to take centre stage at the COP27 climate summit, to be held in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh later this month.

Also read: Heatwave in India this year was 30 times more likely due to climate change, Lancet study says

Not enough data

India is among the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change, according to the Germanwatch Climate Vulnerability Index, but its varied landscape also makes certain areas prone to certain types of disasters.

According to the National Institute of Disaster Management, in India “12 per cent of land is prone to floods and river erosion; of the 7,516 km long coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches”.

The CSE report “speaks of the increased frequency and intensity of the extreme events that we are seeing in our rapidly warming world”.

The CSE report, however, does not account for the natural climatic factors or topographic factors that contribute to extreme weather events. It also does not provide a baseline to establish changes in the frequency of extreme weather events. Sengupta told ThePrint that a repository of this data over the years will give a clear picture of changes.

While climate change is known to exacerbate extreme weather events and has been observed to increase their frequency, the science of attributing climate change to each extreme weather event is still growing.

“The focus of the report is to try and ascertain the extent of losses and damages that these events produce,” said Sengupta.

The report sourced its data from the IMD, as well as the Disaster Management Division (DMD) of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The post-disaster event reports produced by the DMD are only available during the monsoon, limiting the scope of calculating losses and damages, the report stated.

Another challenge was that the data was not “comprehensive”, the authors said, citing the discrepancy between media reports which found widespread crop losses in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat due to extreme weather, while official records found none.

“The absence of a robust public database on extreme weather events in the country poses difficulties in the evaluation of disaster situations and their impacts,” said the report.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Melting glaciers, water scarcity, exodus: How climate change reality is biting Ladakh villages


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