New Delhi: Even as Kerala battled floods and landslides, the state-run weather forecaster India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued very-heavy rain warning for Uttrakhand as well, raising concerns over India’s vulnerability to extreme rainfall events which have recorded a steady rise over recent years. In its latest weather forecast, IMD today issued a “red warning" for Uttarakhand, parts of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Karnataka and east Uttar Pradesh, and asked the states’ authorities to remain alert over the next three days.
“Heavy rainfall used to occur in Kerala, but not with such continuity. This time, there has been widespread rain continually for a long time which has not been recorded in recent years. As observed in our studies, intensity of daily rainfall is indeed increasing, especially along the western coast and northeastern states," said Dr D.S. Pai, head of climate prediction group at IMD Pune.
Research carried out by IMD scientists published in the Climate Dynamics journal revealed increased disaster potential for instant flooding over Central India, where both intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall shows an upward trend.
“Our vulnerability to extreme rainfall is increasing as more people are living in low-lying areas, and land development is changing drainage patterns. When there is more rain than the soil can absorb, water will quickly run off—overwhelming streams, drains and rivers, causing flash floods," said Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, whose recent study in the Nature magazine showed that number of extreme rainfall events have gone up threefold in India.
According to the study, there have been 285 reported flooding events in India over 1950-2017, affecting about 850 million people, leaving 19 million homeless and killing about 71,000 people. The total damage during this period was estimated to be about $60 billion.
“The loss per year has been increasing and damage due to floods has been about $3 billion per year during the last decade. Extreme rainfall is increasing in frequency and intensity. Idukki district in Kerala, were the flooding is happening currently, is also one such region," said Koll.
In its recent State of the Climate report, the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also raised concerns over high number of casualties in India due to extreme rainfall events last year. As many as 800 lives were lost in heavy rain-triggered incidents in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar during monsoon last year, noted the global report. Changing demographics, socioeconomic conditions and unplanned urbanization worsen the impact.
Severe weather events have caused catastrophic loss for life and property across the country in recent years. Torrential rainfall caused floods in Jhelum and Chenab in 2014, causing nearly 400 villages in Jammu and Kashmir to submerge. Chennai bore the brunt in November 2015 and Assam in 2016. In 2017, Mumbai and Gujarat were forced to shut down due to record heavy rainfall.
Uttrakhand is yet to recover from the trail of destruction left by flash floods in June 2013—the country’s worst natural disaster since the tsunami in 2004.
The looming threat of global warming further fuels concerns over erratic weather events.
“With increasing carbon dioxide emissions due to human activities, the atmosphere and the oceans are warmer than what it was earlier. Since the atmosphere holds more moisture, it dumps all the moisture together as heavy rainfall," said Koll.
According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), over 12% of the country’s land is prone to floods and river erosion.
“It was expected that extreme weather events would increase due to climate change, and it is happening across the globe. The effects are evident in India because of its vulnerabilities. This makes it more important to make our climate change mitigation plans more stringent," said Dr Malti Goel, former adviser, Department of Science and Technology, and founder, Climate Change Research Institute, Delhi.