The economics of climate change is disputed. However, its effects are visible and soon it may be time to take a hard look at one of them: its fallout on security.
On Monday, the Union ministry of environment and forests clarified that the “retreat” of Himalayan glaciers wasn’t due to global warming. A week earlier, there were reports of China constructing a “dam” over the higher reaches of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet. The two stories are linked by one theme, that of India’s water security. South Asia is home to a large mass of humanity. Any reduction in water availability has the potential to ignite political and security crises which, whenever they arise, cannot be isolated in national boundaries. China, India and Pakistan will be embroiled in the resulting disputes together.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
For India, the problem is acute. If it is the loss of river waters that poses the danger on one front, it is the rising sea level that is another source of trouble on its eastern flank. With the erosion of its land mass, an influx of persons from Bangladesh is a very real danger now. Bangladesh’s government does not have the capacity, economic and scientific, to tackle this threat. It is unlikely to develop this in time to meet the challenge. The result: more “climate refugees” in eastern India where earlier waves of Bangladeshi immigrants have already altered the demographic landscape.
Further down, in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a country that is under physical threat of submergence under rising ocean tides. While the eloquent president of that country, Mohamed Nasheed, has been to New Delhi and has raised these concerns, no one seems to be paying attention to his pleas. India should. If our ambitions in the Indian Ocean are to go anywhere, the existence of a friendly Maldives is essential. That alone, if not friendship with a neighbouring country, should make us reach out to that beleaguered country.
These are not conventional threats that have military solutions. Whenever these situations emerge, they are likely to involve migration of populations, droughts, decline in agricultural outputs and a higher incidence of diseases. Meeting the security aspects of these emergent situations requires very different thinking from what we are accustomed to now.
In the US, for example, the department of defence and the Central Intelligence Agency already are devoting substantial resources to understanding the security outcomes of these challenges. In India, the debate continues to be focused on emission cuts, mostly. It is time our policymakers looked in other directions as well.
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