Climate Change, a Disaster: Special Focus on Indian Himalayan Regions
In this essay, the authors have depicted that climate change is the reason why disaster management of a nation is affected. Climate Change, a Disaster: Special Focus on Indian Himalayan Regions “All across the world increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is… Read More »
In this essay, the authors have depicted that climate change is the reason why disaster management of a nation is affected.
Climate Change, a Disaster: Special Focus on Indian Himalayan Regions
“All across the world increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it’s here and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster” – Barack Obama.
Climate change affects the world in every aspect possible i.e., economic, political, social, and legal. The disasters which once occurred naturally are now turning out to be man-made due to climate change’s impact on these disasters. The frequent intensifying of these disasters is causing the nations to worry. Further, there is much awaited to see in the future if no steps are taken to mitigate extreme climatic conditions. But the question arises that being a worldwide environmental crisis, can climate change qualify as a disaster in itself?
In this essay, the authors have depicted that climate change is the reason why disaster management of a nation is affected, which again is the root cause of failure of a nation’s disaster management system as well as a huge loss to the nation. To prove this submission the authors specifically focus on the instance of the Indian Himalayan Regions.
Introduction: Climate Change A Disaster
India is a well-known developing nation. One of the indicators to determine the growth and development of a nation is its Gross Domestic Product. But India is one such nation that is vulnerable to climate change and climatic disasters. It has been hit disastrously by floods, cyclones, and heatwaves. In such cases, most of its budget is spent on the disaster management department and damage control. It is clear that not only India, but the global economy as a whole also suffered a loss of $232 billion (Rs. 16.5 lakh crore) due to disasters in 2019.
Every natural disaster teaches us what to do and what to avoid for the next one coming. But what is a disaster? Are they completely natural? Disaster is defined as “a catastrophe, mishap, calamity, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from a natural or man-made cause, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.
The reasons for the occurrence of disasters are various and cannot be solely natural. To quote in this regard, Rebecca Solnit – ‘There are disasters that are entirely man-made, but none that are entirely natural’.
Hence, disaster management would soon be the highest priority of all the nations around the world and a key reason for the same is Climate Change. It is a change in the earth’s climate that is primarily driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the earth’s atmosphere, raising the earth’s temperature. These human-produced temperature increases are commonly referred to as global warming.
Climate change is not just a catalyst of intense potential and frequent occurrences of local disasters but is also a global disaster in itself. Due to these enormous threats by intense disasters time and again, the global community started to respond. The essential international response to climate change was via The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which opted for exhortatory language towards reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than the imposition of strict standards and targets for the countries to meet.
However, the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC does impose such targets and timetables, there are no institutional repercussions to the ones who do not meet those targets or standards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988, providing scientific assessments concerning climate change and conducting research. 
This present essay focuses on the effects of climate change on the disaster risk management capabilities of India. The authors study the impact of climate change upon the Indian Himalayan Regions and examples of situations wherein climate change was responsible for the occurrence of such disasters in those regions.
Indian Himalayan Regions: Combat With Climate Change
Indian Himalayan regions
The Himalayas covers the Indian Subcontinent area to about 5.3 lakh square kilometres, which is around 16.2% of the Country’s geographical area. This forms a boundary of the nation on the northern side. This region which consists of states forming part of the Indian Himalayas is known as Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). IHR consists of 11 states which are Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and two partial hilly regions of Assam and West Bengal. The region further extends to the Tibetan Plateau, starting from foothills in the south (Shivalik) to the north (Trans Himalayas), which again consists of 95 districts of that country.
The IHR displays a very less dispersed human population. Due to its diverse physiographic conditions and poor infrastructure development, the population in IHR is low when compared to other parts of the nation. However, the growth rate in this region is much higher than the national average.
Impact of climate change disasters in Himalayan regions
The Himalayan Region is a very fragile landscape and is highly susceptible to natural hazards, which raises concerns about climate change’s current and future impact. There are multiple disasters that the Indian Himalayan Regions face due to climate change like landslides, floods, droughts, biodiversity loss, food scarcity, growing of weed, melting glaciers, different temperatures in different seasons, etc.
Recently the climate research unit restructured the temperature dataset which showed the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau were warming up at a higher rate than in the last few decades. The satellite imagery, photography, and field-based observation display that the glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating. Analysis of satellite images taken over the years of 26 glaciers in the western Indian Himalayas shows that all are retreating.
An observatory analysis on the 286 mountain glaciers across the Himalayas found that 65% of the mountain glaciers present in the areas which are influenced by monsoons were retreating. But the glaciers which are covered in heavy debris are being stable, even 58% of glaciers in the Karakoram region are either slowly advancing or being stable. Due to these glacier retreats, there are more formations of glacier lakes. Climatic and non-climatic factors such as precipitation type and amount of precipitation, temperature, debris cover, slope all influence the glacier retreat.
One of the triggering factors to accelerate the glacial mass loss is considered to be Black carbon. Black carbon is produced as a result of incomplete combustion of coal, diesel, biomass fuel, etc. Black carbon received attention for the acceleration of the warming climate because the production of carbon has increased three times more than it did in the past.
This black carbon gets deposited in ice and snow and increases the melting while the atmospheric black carbon absorbs the light and together, they cause the glacier melting. The glacier melting has made a significant impact on the trends of streamflow in the Himalayan Regions which is a trigger for flood risks and non-water availability for consumption.
Agriculture occupation in the Himalayan Regions is highly dependent on the rains which means the food security of these regions is vulnerable to the climate change impact. Global climate model projections determine warmer climatic conditions in the Himalayan regions which is expected to be more than the global average warming rates. This is why experts opined that agriculture is likely to be severely affected by climate change in the future.
Further, the warmer climates have led to excessive rainfalls which lead to flash floods and cloudbursts in other parts of the Himalayan region which have experienced extreme heatwaves and a high deficit in rainfalls. This is due to the increased use of concrete cement structures replacing the stone masonry and traditional woods.
For example, in the initial days of July month, many districts in Arunachal Pradesh were under severe deficit then faced extreme rainfalls leading to floods. The same was the case in Assam, where four districts – Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, and Barpeta faced floods and these 8 districts were underwater for around a month.
The IPCC reports that climate change has impacted and altered the frequency and magnitude of natural hazards. There are some regions where snow avalanches have occurred while in some other regions snow floods. There is no evidence to show what caused the avalanches but climate change can be caused by glacier melting due to global warming. Further, it also observed that the ice present in the rocks is melting and causing to de-stabilize steep slopes which might be a warning sign for the occurrence of rock slides and rock avalanches.
As the Himalayas form a boundary protecting us from extreme weather and other nations, the disasters taking place in Indian Himalayan Regions can trigger a danger in the future to the whole subcontinent of India. There is a need to tackle the disasters caused by climate change but before that, there is an urgent need to tackle climate change which is a disaster in itself. Hence, the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) started a government initiative, especially for the Indian Himalayan Regions known as National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem.
This mission was launched in 2014, to assess the status of these regions and assist them in implementing actions required for sustainable development. There is a hope that central disaster management, as well as state initiatives to mitigate and resolve the climate change impact, is possible. In the future, the rise in artificial intelligence and technology worldwide will be a sound answer to the problem of climate change in these vulnerable regions.
Policies For Disaster Management
The following are the policies concerning specific challenges of management of climate change disaster in any country, especially in India, and the effective ways to improve the mechanisms.
Right techniques for disaster planning
As it is very important now to have a definite plan or policy to combat the extreme impact of climate change, the nation cannot take risks of adopting faulty plans or policies which fail. Hence the challenge being faced by the disaster management of our nation is to find a way of culling out the right techniques for planning a safe way for these uncertain events that are to come in the future. Computerized scenario generation is a promising new approach.
It is identified that RAND’s Robust Decision Making (RDM) techniques provide a methodical way of exploration of a substantial number of probable policies to identify extensive solutions. This method evaluates the policy models with the future state of the world, identified by data mining techniques, and analyses it with several case scenarios in which the policy might fail. During the process, much vulnerability is pointed out by this mechanism and the gaps can be then filled by the policymakers or can opt for a newer policy. The other way would be to go for assumption-based planning which will give similar results, helps avoid scenarios in which the plan might fail, and better decision making.
Changes in land and property laws
There are many constructions and houses in India built in areas that are declared uninhabitable due to their vulnerability to unforeseen events. One such example is the people housing near the Hussain Sagar Lake and facing drastic consequences of floods during the pandemic due to increased water levels. Further, the change in sea levels and extreme weather made the places once safe, dangerous to live in.
In such times coming up with new municipal by-laws concerning land and property rights might be a challenge, as the government might have to update those by-laws whenever climate change-induced disasters events occur. It is extremely difficult in modern times to stick to one set of by-laws and there might be constant modification considering the level of climate change impact which the disaster management authority must take note of the changes and accordingly update which area is capable of habitation and which area is not.
Focus on social justice
The nations which are not developed or smaller regions and islands have contributed the least towards climate change yet they are suffering the most in terms of droughts, heatwaves, cyclones, floods, etc. Further, it is very difficult for the developing nations to meet the expense for effective disaster management and rebuild the whole system.
Thus, different countries must enact better laws and regulations that provide for a better mechanism to ensure that the underprivileged classes are not short-changed in the planning and preparation for countering a natural disaster. The countries can also claim to be prioritized in allocation of international adaptation aid as a matter of right to a resilient infrastructure facility.
Creation of new forms of risk transfer
At times disaster management fails to cope with the impact of the disaster as well as climate change but other times it is certainly not in the hands of the disaster management system but purely based on luck. In those times it’s very challenging to accept the risk and incur a huge amount of economic loss and that too frequently. Hence it is important to develop the risk transfer mechanisms to prepare for the future to come.
Risk transfer can be made through transferring the loss to insurance companies which again spreads it and makes it a bearable loss. Here too public-private partnership plays a very vital role. But the challenge here is to find more varied mechanisms of risk transfer. Further, the insurance as a risk transfer faces issues like difficulty in setting premium and plan budgets because climate change is an ongoing process.
Increase inhabitation facilities
India being a country with almost 700 million rural population is most affected because these are the people who are dependent on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, forests, and fisheries and are dependent on natural resources like water, biodiversity, grasslands, coastal zones, etc. Natural calamities deprive them of their Natural habitat temporarily or permanently, which is again a challenge to be faced by the disaster management team,s and adaptation mechanisms are adopted. In such cases the adaptation of climate change impact becomes tough for the dry land farmers, forest dwellers as well as coastal communities, making it difficult for disaster management to carry out its initiatives.
Special protection of vulnerable regions
Within the country, many places are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. Special focus by the disaster management authorities for these particular regions is very necessary. The impact of climate change is severe in tropical areas, especially in India. The development of coastal areas, industrialization, and urbanization make people more vulnerable to climate change-induced disasters. Due to the rise in sea levels, the coastal regions are losing their land area and are shifting to safer places. This poses a challenge to disaster management to provide adequate numbers of flood shelters and alternative habitation facilities.
Technological know-how for disaster planning
Climate change is likely to impact all the natural ecosystems as well as health (eg. – malaria), and socio-economic systems too, as shown by India’s initial national communication to the UNFCCC. So, there it is, an added challenge to disaster management. To manage these climate change-induced disasters, the country needs to have improved scientific understanding, capacity building, networking, and broad consultation processes across every section of the society.
Mainstreaming disaster and climate change in development policies
The objective of the Disaster Management Act 2005 is to provide for the efficient management of natural disasters and for managing other matters that are closely connected with the same. The Act also ensures measures by the various wings of the Government for prevention and mitigation of disasters and prompts response to any disaster situation.
To improve the disaster risk awareness and risk-sensitive planning the entry point activities are listed as under: (i) Risk identification and awareness among the public through information, education, and communication activities; (ii) Include Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) mainstreaming and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) as one of the objectives of sectoral development plans including the centrally sponsored schemes.
Thus, the above-mentioned policies can be an initial step towards managing the climate change disaster. However, the situation of the weak and vulnerable areas and regions is the main concern right now. The Indian Himalayan Regions are the main victims of climate change due to their vulnerability, location, and other important factors.
Conclusion: Solutions & Suggestions
There are various ways in which climate change disasters can be mitigated and some of the suggestions which can be helpful are pointed out hereafter.
- There is a need for a systematic approach towards disaster mitigation. The disaster majorly is dependent on the human phenomenon and hence changing our ways can reduce the risk of climate change. Initiatives like climate change adaptation, disaster auditing, analysis of intensity and loss in each sector, training, and most importantly involvement of private parties through public-private partnerships in these projects.Including the climate change adaptation strategies to be followed by the companies as a part of CSR and contribute towards a better future and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.
- Investment into green initiatives and start-ups such as electric automobiles reducing the pollution and carbon emissions, plantation drives being mandated in urban areas to reduce the vulnerability. And a proper reward system for those who carry out these initiatives and projects.
- Establishing a climate change information service system for climate change adaptation in Himalayan regions. A lot of information can be gathered but should be made effectively available to the potential end-users.
- Merging the NDMA with the other bodies who are taking initiatives to combat climate change such as NAPCC and all other SAPCCs.
- Need for an effective International Disaster Response system to help and learn from the nations in times of need. Best practices from other countries can assist in establishing collective understanding and transboundary environmental governance.
- The most important solution is to learn from the neighbouring countries, in the international community, and learning from the neighbouring states in the nation setting can be of great help in these times. Bhutan is one such country that has established all the necessary mechanisms to cope with climate change adaptation way before other nations. Further Odisha can be used as an example for the national scenario, where the state has heavily invested in disaster risk reduction projects and has its department of disaster management which has built hundreds of cyclone shelter homes across the coast and also handled the disasters of high intensity with the least casualties.
The disaster management of a nation shows its strength to face unforeseen and unpredictable challenges. If the planning is effective and practical the economy would not suffer a hard hit. Climate change, being a disaster in itself requires continuing attention, right ways in the present may lead to a better future.
Climate Change, a Disaster: Special Focus on Indian Himalayan Regions is the title of the essay written by Aritra Sarkar and Harika Tejavath. They are both students of Odisha’s National Law University. In this essay, the authors have depicted that climate change is the reason why disaster management of a nation is affected, which again is the root cause of failure of a nation’s disaster management system as well as a huge loss to the nation. To prove this submission the authors specifically focus on the instance of the Indian Himalayan Regions.
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