Mumbai: A rise in global temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions could leave India facing a rush of 125 million people migrating into or within the country.
A study commissioned by Greenpeace India, a not-for-profit organization, on climate change discloses that rising sea levels could force about 75 million people from low-lying Bangladesh and another 50 million from India’s densely populated coastal regions to migrate to interior towns and cities. This may generate severe tensions and instability in the context of already dwindling urban resources.
The report, titled Climate Migrants in South Asia: Estimates and Solutions, was released on Tuesday, some months ahead of the national action plan on climate change, scheduled for June 2008.
Sudhir Chella Rajan, professor of humanities and social sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, independently prepared the report, based on existing data provided by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global body that evaluates the risk of climate change caused by human activity.
“A major aspect of climate change is sea level rise and nobody is talking about it. India is vulnerable to rising sea levels due to a variety of reasons. India has the longest coastline, so people living in the low-elevation coastal zones in India will be as affected as the people in Bangladesh, which is a low-lying area. This will mean displacement and migration and cause socio-economic upheaval,” said Rajan.
Coastal cities could face damage worth trillions of dollars because their physical and social capital will be lost to rising seas, he added.
The report also suggests that global warming will affect the monsoon patterns in India, causing a significant damage to the “health of India’s agricultural sector”, which plays a dominant role in the country’s economy.
Besides, “substantial reductions in water availability are possible for large parts of north India, roughly 80% of whose water resource needs are met primarily by Himalayan snow-pack melt during the dry summer months. With retreating glaciers in the Himalayas and subsequent loss of fossil water, the water supply to the region will likely cease abruptly”.
India’s glaciers are melting fast and IPCC had warned in 2007 that if steps were not taken to check this, there was a likelihood of water shortage in rivers and flooding of coastal regions.
In a 14 March report, Mint quoted from journal Science that melting ice from Himalayan glaciers and other global ice sheets has contributed more to the rise in the global sea level over the past 80 years than was previously estimated.
Rajan feels that the country’s policy is inadequate to deal with climate change, although India has set a target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “The government should get its act together and should look at long-term strategic policies rather than relying on some projects here and there to offset emissions.” Meanwhile, Greenpeace under their “Blue Alert” campaign is lobbying with elected members of Parliament from the coastal regions of Kochi, Goa, Chennai, Kolkata and Orissa to raise questions on government policies.