India is among the countries which is at the greatest risk of food insecurity due to weather extremes caused by climate change
The report that Delhi has just had the warmest March in eight years and a baking summer awaits the whole of north India, is not going to comfort parched hearts. It should, however, not be surprising. One has been hearing of global warming for a long time. Its arrival is now being felt. Things, by all accounts, are going to be much worse and, with the United States walking out of the Paris accord on climate change and its Environment Protection Agency having virtually become an ‘Environment Destruction Agency’, they are unlikely to become better in the near future — if not in the long-run as well.
Hence, a country like India, which has a large population to feed and a development process to progressively accelerate, has to seriously consider how to cope with global warming and its effects. Unfortunately, not enough attention is being paid to the matter, particularly in the areas of increasing the availability, and rationalising the use of water. The severe water scarcity faced by Cape Town in South Africa, and the danger of its receiving no piped water supply from the next month, is instructive. Realising as many as 20 years ago, that there could be a serious shortage of water supply, the city's Administration had initiated steps to reduce water usage. Its efforts won it several international awards for efficient water management.
In hindsight, it obviously did not do enough and the reason is that it did not expect the situation to assume crisis proportions so soon, which has happened because of the unexpected increase in population caused by migration from other parts of South Africa. India, too, is facing a rapidly increasing population which, roughly 330 million (33 crore) at Independence, is estimated to have stood at a little over 1.3 billion (130 crore) in 2017. According to a UN study of global population trends, it is going to peak at between 160 and 180 crore in 2060.
With drought becoming more frequent, the flow of rivers decreasing and rainfall becoming less and erratic, one can well imagine the kind of water scarcity the country will face. It is not just a question of water. Finding food for such large numbers will be difficult unless something like another Green Revolution gives a quantum jump to agricultural productivity. Besides, catering to the diverse needs of a huge population of between 160 and 180 billion will require a vast increase in the production and transportation of both raw material and manufactured goods and a massive increase in the wholesale and retail distribution systems. All this as well as rising domestic consumption will cause a steep rise in the demand for power, which, according to the Central Electricity Authority, is set to increase from a peak-level load of 155 GW at the beginning of 2018 to about 690 GW in 2035-36. In fact, the increase may be even higher considering that 240 million Indians now have no electricity at all.
Unless drastic steps are taken, all this is going to cause the emission level of greenhouse gases, already very high, to go up further. Since such steps have proved elusive so far, the chances are that the enhanced emission of greenhouse gases will make problem of global warming even more intractable than now.
It has to be a multi-pronged effort to deal with multiple areas where issues can be expected to be acute. The fundamental answer, containing the country's runaway population growth is unlikely to be addressed given the view of vocal sections that even the very mention of it is politically incorrect. One is, therefore, left with specific issues. One of these is going to be the availability of water. The intense feelings roused in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over their respective shares of Cauvery waters shows how much discord the matter can cause.
Water supply management will require primacy because without an effective level of it, other matters like increasing food production, improving and expanding urban civic infrastructure to accommodate steeply rising city populations caused by migration from the villages and so on, will falter. India needs a comprehensive national plan for water management that will include the digging of deep tubewells based on ground water surveys, plants for treating and re-using effluents, and de-salinisation plants for sea water to serve coastal cities. All this must begin immediately. There is no time to lose.