Preparing for Climate Change Impacts in India

Whenever I talk to someone from the East Coast of the U.S. lately, the subject inevitably turns to the heat this summer.  Temperatures have been hot, hot, hot  not only there, but also in India.  India has been going through a brutal heat wave .  The mercury has verged on 50˚C (122˚ F) at times.  It has been one of the hottest summers on record.  When my grandparents, who live outside Kolkata, talk about the heat, they talk about constant power cuts, when not even ceiling fans will operate.  And they have it good.  For a large part of the Indian population, many of whom live in villages, even an occasionally operating ceiling fan would be a luxury.  They have no electricity to lose.  Heat waves like the one this summer are immense hardships, not only because of the enormous discomfort that they can cause, but because of the jeopardy they pose to basic survival, to food, health, well-being, and life.   And the situation is likely to get worse, maybe much worse, with climate change. 

All of which made the recent release of a set of case studies examining the challenges of a changing climate all the more timely.   The case studies by Intercooperation examine the challenges faced by villages in some of the hottest, driest parts of India (Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh).  They focus on village-level strategies that could help the villages be better prepared not only for the hotter and drier future predicted with climate change, but also for the already brutal, parched conditions in these regions.  As one might expect, the case studies can only address some of the problems these villages face and are focused on the following five strategies:

NRDC firmly believes that projects such as this are an important complement to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a belief reflected in our ongoing efforts to move health-focused adaptation programs forward in the US. 

There is a pressing need for more scientific research on climate adaptation with a particular focus on the world’s most vulnerable populations.  This research can help shape major new programs to prepare for, and respond to, health emergencies caused by a changing climate.  These efforts will be critical to saving lives around the globe and protecting developing economies.  We hope that the U.S. and India can join together to model shifting climate patterns and the vulnerabilities of communities to the changing climate and to develop strategies to prepare communities for risks, as we move from early pioneering studies toward project implementation. 

In India, which already faces health threats ranging from heat-waves to floods to infectious disease outbreaks, such work has an especially important role to play.  These threats often cause avoidable death, illness, and injury, and impose significant economic costs at all economic levels.  On top of this, India will soon experience (some would say it is already experiencing) severe and unavoidable impacts from climate change—including hotter weather, changes in rainfall and monsoon patterns, and more natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and drought—that will likely make existing health risks worse.  Action by municipalities, health officials, and national governments to help prepare for these scenarios is one of the most effective ways to build resilience and protect human health. 

As the Intercooperation case studies suggest, preparing for climate change also helps communities better respond to problems they already face.  As more vulnerability assessments and local adaptation projects are carried out and evaluated, they add to the ideas that other communities can draw on and build on to prepare for the inevitable climate change impacts they will face themselves.