Saturday, September 02, 2017

India’s Floods Expose Poor Countries’ Total Vulnerability to Climate Change

In West Bengal, residents say Hurricane Harvey in the US is “no comparison” to devastation for which their country left them woefully unprepared.

 Buildings all around the village of Pratappur were swamped after flood defenses failed (Photo Credit: Aditi Roy Ghatak) Click to Enlarge.
Benai village – in the boondocks of West Bengal; some 115km (71 mi) from the east Indian state’s capital Kolkata – was not ready for this.

In this tiny corner of a crisis that has enveloped south Asia, the heaviest monsoon in years – India’s equivalent of Hurricane Harvey – has washed out hundreds of acres of farmland, breaking every electricity pole, snapping off phone and internet links, and cutting cable connections.

Between Benai and the neighboring village of Arit, the homes of 3,000 families (for the number of people multiply each by five) have been under water since 26 July, when the bund (embankment) on the Silabati River at Ghatal was breached.
Multiply this plight by 160 – the number of villages thus affected in West Bengal – and at least three million people in this part of India are now left staring at the watery graveyards of their standing paddy crop.  Rice is the staple for the region.  The crop was destroyed across 12 districts of Bengal; the havoc spread over 1.2m hectares.  There is nothing but water anywhere you cast your eyes.

It is the same story in Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam, states in the east and north-east of India; in the west, Gujarat was inundated, while Mumbai, India’s financial capital is still reeling, knee deep in water; a 100-year-old building collapsing in the incessant rain, killing at least 33. Across India’s eastern and northern borders, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are also in the throes of watery death and destruction.  A thousand and a half are reported to have perished in the region.

On the other side of the planet, in Texas and across the south, more communities are reeling. Scores are dead after Harvey dumped more than four feet of rain onto Houston and its surrounds.

The rainfall was actually less extreme in India, despite the catastrophically higher death toll. Comparisons are largely redundant against such overwhelming tragedy, but the discrepancy between the number of lives lost here and in the US is telling.  The developing world remains profoundly exposed in the face extreme weather; extreme weather that is predicted to become ever more frequent as climate change advances.  In the coincidence of these two disasters, we have the starkest articulation thus far of the UN climate science panel’s prediction that climate change will be disproportionately suffered by the poor world.

This happens for many reasons, but at its heart it is about poverty and governance.  India’s National Disaster Management Authority’s budgeted expenditure in 2016-17 was $100m. In the US, a country with one quarter the population of India, the Federal Emergency Management Agency budget for 2016 was $15.5bn.  In South Asia, storms regularly kill dozens of people.  When a big flood comes people die in their thousands.

Read more at India’s Floods Expose Poor Countries’ Total Vulnerability to Climate Change

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